“It’s not going to come from the outside. It’s going to come from the inside. We don’t have any 50-goal scorers sitting on the sidelines waiting to come in.”
That’s what San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner offered, when asked how the team was going to manufacture more offense after a 3-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
But who’s going to come from the inside? Be it to help create offense, if Erik Karlsson’s injury is “crazy serious”? Or to play defense, if Radim Simek’s injury forces him out a stretch?
Scraping the Barrel
“We were scraping the barrel there.”
Those aren’t my words, that’s what Boughner said after Simek left the game because of back-to-back Jonathan Marchessault hits and Karlsson didn’t play the last 10 minutes of the third period because of a lower-body injury.
Of course, Boughner wasn’t insulting his remaining defensive corps. But there’s no doubt that the depth of the San Jose Sharks blueline will be put to a severe test if either Karlsson or Simek go on the shelf.
How much more can 35-year-old Brent Burns, who already leads the NHL’s defensemen in Time on Ice, play? Is fading 33-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic, fresh off a demotion to the bottom pairing, ready for top-four minutes again?
Regarding Vlasic, San Jose probably hoped they were entering the season with five top-four rearguards: Burns, Karlsson, Vlasic, a resurgent Simek, and a fast-developing Mario Ferraro. That sounds like a position of strength, but of course, the chips haven’t fallen that way.
And then, there’s Nikolai Knyzhov.
I’m not going to pick too hard on the rookie; I wrote extensively about his problems this afternoon in my post-game Notes.
But Knyzhov’s struggles today are emblematic of what happens when you give big minutes to blueliners who aren’t ready for them.
So I wouldn’t, for example, look too hopefully at Karlsson and Simek’s potential absences as opportunities for say a Ryan Merkley or Brinson Pasichnuk or Nicolas Meloche. Chances are, so shortly after training camp, they’re not ready for them yet.
By the way, I’m not down on Knyzhov. He’s where Ferraro was at last year, capably handling bottom-pairing NHL minutes, a really good place for a 22-year-old defenseman with obvious physical talents. But expecting him, after an on-the-balance impressive 13 contests as a third-pairing blueliner, to suddenly flourish in higher-leverage situations – with clear holes in his game – is asking for trouble.
Besides prospects like Merkley, the San Jose Sharks could also turn to veterans like Fredrik Claesson and Jake Middleton, but frankly, we probably already know their ceilings. Christian Jaros, another defenseman probably without a high ceiling, is another option — the ex-Senators prospect just completed his quarantine in Arizona but is likely to start with the Barracuda. It might be another week or two before he’s ready for NHL action.
The point is, if you care about the San Jose Sharks winning games, don’t celebrate the possible absence of a Karlsson. I fully understand that he’s not playing up to his contract – he’s an $11.5 million dollar defenseman playing like a five-million one. I fully understand that right now, his good offensive plays aren’t necessarily outweighing his bad defensive plays. And no, I’m not talking about Karlsson being on the ice for all of the Golden Knights’ power play goals this afternoon – on the Alex Tuch goal, he got beat to a puck pop-up, basically a baseball play; on the Mark Stone putback, that’s Matt Nieto’s man; on the Chandler Stephenson deflection, the puck went in off Stephenson’s skate.
Don’t tell me this shallow Sharks squad is better without him. Don’t forget, a five-million dollar blueliner is still a good player. And yes, I’m basically saying San Jose doesn’t have anybody better.
I’m not excusing Karlsson’s disappointing campaign. This flawed Sharks team needs consistent greatness from him just to make the playoffs. And they’re not getting it.
But they still need even this version of Karlsson to stay afloat.
SPORTLOGiQ Stat of the Night
Per SPORTLOGiQ, Vegas dominated in All Situations with a 17-5 Slot Shots on Net, 10-3 Scoring Chances Off the Rush, and a 6:25-4:26 OZ Possession Time advantage.
Timo Meier led all San Jose Sharks players with a 00:39 OZ Possession Time, 11 seconds more than runner-up Logan Couture. That’s what San Jose wants from Meier, hanging onto the puck. William Karlsson excelled entering the zone, leading all skaters with nine Controlled Entries. Next were Alex Pietrangelo, Tuch, and Dylan Gambrell with five each.
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.