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Preview/Lines #14: Nick Merkley Has Earned His Shot

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

For the first time since Oct. 28, the San Jose Sharks return to full strength, with seven players returning from the National Hockey League’s COVID-19 protocol tonight.

The San Jose Sharks are in the midst of a tough five-game road test to begin the season. After beating Calgary 4-1, the wheels of their short-handed train came off in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. San Jose looks to rebound against the Colorado Avalanche with a healthier roster, which includes the return of head coach Bob Boughner.

Boughner noted a big factor will be the ice time management for the COVID-affected players in the high-altitude atmosphere.

“I think what we are going to have to do is manage some ice time and manage expectations,” Boughner said. “I think that we got to make sure we play these guys smart. They got a responsibility as well. They got to keep it simple and get their feet under them, especially in the first period. That’s going to be mandatory.”

Forward Nick Merkley is the only player from the emergency San Jose Barracuda call-ups on Oct. 30 who remains with the big club. The 2015 first-round pick has collected a goal and three points in six games.

“Merkley has made a case for himself,” Boughner said. “He’s done a good job. He’s a smart hockey player. He’s a guy who has definitely earned that opportunity to stay up here.”

Boughner is rewarding Merkley again tonight, as he’ll skate ahead of Jonah Gadjovich on San Jose’s fourth line.

Sharks assistant coach John MacLean has also been pleased with the 24-year-old’s performances, watching Merkley from behind the bench over the course of the last two weeks.

“He is greasy out there,” the Sharks acting head coach said. “Merkley knows how to compete and can make the little plays. He has a good hockey IQ. He’s still a young guy, so he’s got to compete like that game in and game out.”

The San Jose Sharks have danced through the goaltender carousel over the first month of the season, switching back and forth between the seasoned James Reimer and the young Adin Hill.

Boughner has elected to return to Hill against Colorado following his impressive 37-save performance against Calgary, hoping to ride the “hot hand” in Denver. Hill sports a 2.81 goals against average and a .904 save percentage in seven games.

“It’s still a young season, but we want to ride the hot hand,” Boughner said. Both guys deservedly so have had their games and they’re both coming off some good hockey. Hopefully Hill plays well and we keep him going.”

As for the COVID-affected players in Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Matt Nieto, they have been skating for a few days and preparing to not miss a beat ahead of game three of the Sharks’ five-game road trip.

“We got to treat it like the first game of the season and go from there,” Karlsson said. “That’s going to be my mindset and I think that’s the way it’s going to feel for a lot of the guys.”

San Jose Sharks (7-5-1)

Meier – Couture – Dahlen
Barabanov – Hertl – Balcers
Nieto – Bonino – Labanc
Cogliano – Weatherby – N. Merkley

Ferraro – Burns
Middleton – Karlsson
Vlasic – Simek

Hill

Colorado Avalanche (5-5-1)

Avalanche star center Nathan MacKinnon will be out approximately three weeks with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Bo Byram is also out. He’s under the weather, according to head coach Jared Bednar.

These look like the lines and pairings, per Colorado Hockey Now:

Landeskog-Compher-Rantanen

Nichushkin-Kadri-Burakovsky

Jost-Newhook-O’Connor

Helm-Megna-Sherwood

Toews-Makar

Murray-Girard

J. Johnson-E. Johnson

Kuemper

Follow Colorado Hockey Now’s Adrian Dater for all your Avalanche updates!

Where To Watch

Puck drop against Colorado is 6 PM PT at Ball Arena. Watch it live on NBC Sports California and ESPN+. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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