Forwards Logan Couture and Lane Pederson and defenseman Erik Karlsson are all expected to return to the Sharks’ lineup Tuesday when they begin a four-game homestand against the Detroit Red Wings.
Couture and Pederson both missed the last three Sharks games after they entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol prior to the team playing the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Jan. 4. Both Couture and Pederson had to isolate in Detroit for five days after their positive tests.
“Lonely,” Couture said Tuesday of his isolation. “I got to know my hotel room pretty well – not very big there but got through it. I didn’t feel sick at all. Wouldn’t have known that I had anything, which is a good thing. That’s basically the best outcome is to feel healthy, feel good and ready to go.”
Couture took part in the Sharks’ morning skate Tuesday at SAP Center, and it appears he will begin the game with the Red Wings on a line with Jonathan Dahlen and Noah Gregor. Couture is third on the Sharks with 29 points in 32 games.
“Happy to be on the ice with the guys,” Couture said.
Karlsson still wasn’t sure after Monday’s practice that he would be able to play against the Red Wings after he was hurt in the Jan. 4 game. Karlsson injured his upper body that night and missed the Sharks’ next two games against Buffalo and Philadelphia, which San Jose won.
Karlsson, though, is set to start Tuesday’s on a defense pair with Jaycob Megna, as Jake Middleton remains out with an upper-body injury.
The Sharks’ other defense pairs will feature Mario Ferraro with Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Ryan Merkley, marking the first time Karlsson, Burns, and Merkley – all right-shot defensemen – will all be in the same regular-season game.
As he was in games against Buffalo and Philadelphia, Merkley will be featured on one of the Sharks’ power-play units. San Jose has gone 1-for-19 with the man advantage over the last nine games and has fallen to 24th in the NHL at 16.8 percent.
“Trying to find a spot for (Merkley, Karlsson, and Burns) to work, that’s a little bit of a challenge. But we’ve got a couple of different ideas for tonight,” said Sharks coach Bob Boughner, adding that besides Merkley’s power-play work, “his 5-on-5 game was good.
“He didn’t give up much, he moved pucks, helps us with our possession, and we’re always looking for more offense from our lineup.”
Boughner said he liked the look of having three right-shot defensemen paired with three lefties and wanted to reward Merkley – the Sharks’ 2018 first-round pick – for what he felt was his strong play the last two games as he averaged 14:24 of ice time.
With Merkley in tonight’s lineup, Nicolas Meloche will be a healthy scratch.
“Ryan’s in there because he deserves to be in there,” Boughner said. “I thought he played a couple of good games for us on the road trip and I want to make this a challenge every night. It shouldn’t be a given who’s playing and he’s really pushed some guys that were ahead of him.”
“From day one, I’ve seen (Merkley), the talent, it seeps out of him,” Couture said. “He makes such elite plays with the puck. His game, he’s shown growth. He’s taking pride in defending and he’s played great given the opportunities that he’s been given.”
SIMEK’S STATUS: Radim Simek skated with Karlsson in Monday’s practice. But Boughner said he wants to give Simek – who was out Saturday with a lower-body injury – another day or two before he potentially inserts him into Thursday’s lineup against the New York Rangers.
NOTES: Adin Hill, who stopped 66 of 70 shots against the Sabres and Flyers, is starting Tuesday’s game with Zach Sawchenko backing up. Goalie James Reimer and forward Jonah Gadjovich (upper body) were placed on injured reserve to make room on the roster for Couture and Pederson. Gadjovich was injured Saturday in Philadelphia and could miss another week or more, Boughner said.