WASHINGTON — Life without Erik Karlsson starts (again) for the San Jose Sharks tonight.
Yesterday, the Sharks announced that Karlsson would miss about the next two months because of forearm surgery. Karlsson was enjoying a renaissance season, with eight goals and 26 points in 33 games.
“The things that Erik does, running the power play and [with our] possession game and our exits and breakouts and things like that,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said. “He’s a big part of our offense. It’s a hole, we got to fill it. Opportunity for other guys to step up. As a team, we got to come together.”
Brent Burns will obviously be a big part of filling the hole. The Sharks’ most-used defenseman has actually piled up 12 points in nine games without Karlsson this year. San Jose actually has a 5-3-1 record sans EK65 this season.
Boughner noted that Burns has flourished with “added responsibility, more ice time, and getting put in more offensive situations” without Karlsson this year.
Burns has averaged 27:39 a game without Karlsson this season, a couple minutes more than his customary 25 minutes or so with Karlsson. Thomas Chabot, by the way, leads the NHL at 27:00 a night, so Burns basically becomes the most-used defenseman in the league in Karlsson’s absence.
Will the 36-year-old continue to thrive without his partner in crime? The San Jose Sharks, still hanging on at the fringe of the Western wild card race, hope so.
Another defenseman that the Sharks should turn to — though not tonight — is Ryan Merkley. After Burns and Karlsson, Merkley is San Jose’s most-gifted offensive defenseman.
Boughner, however, wants more defensively out of the rookie: “What he brings on the offensive side is puck movement, everything is pretty solid.
“But I think defensively, it’s just more urgency and more details. That comes with experience, that comes with playing, that comes with being in NHL practices. A healthy scratch sometimes is a part of the process.”
That’s been a common refrain about the 5-foot-10 defenseman since the Sharks selected him in the first round of the 2018 Draft.
Merkley had been quarterbacking the team’s second power play unit recently, but tonight, Mario Ferraro will take his spot up top. Nicolas Meloche will dress in Merkley’s place.
“Ryan’s a young guy, he’s digging in on that second unit, trying to find his game. There’s been some really good spots, great spots to his game. Other nights, like a lot of young guys, there’s been some downs,” Boughner said. “I wasn’t crazy about his game in Tampa. He’s not the only one. But sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to sit back and watch a game.”
Burns or Merkley, there’s no replacing the inimitable Karlsson.
Andrew Cogliano drilled down on the details: “Everyone’s got to help out with it in the D-zone and breaking out the puck. That’s one thing we’ll miss with Erik. Sometimes, he’s a one-man breakout.”
San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture, on the other hand, took a big picture view: “It’s the same mentality we’ve had all year. It’s next man up. Guys got to do it by committee.
“He’s a big part of our team. We’re gonna miss him.”
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