PITTSBURGH — Winger Melker Karlsson will return to the lineup Thursday after he suffered a head injury last weekend as the Sharks get set to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, hoping to start the new year on a positive note.
Karlsson was struck in the back of his helmet by a puck on a Ivan Provorov slap shot in the first period of the Sharks’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 28. Karlsson missed the rest of the game and did not play Tuesday in the Sharks’ 2-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
“Just trying to block a slot and it went high,” Karlsson said. “Never had one in the head, I think. Not clappers at least.”
Karlsson practiced Wednesday in Pittsburgh and said he slept better that night. He will return to the fourth line with Joel Kellman and Stefan Noesen on Thursday. Antti Suomela will come out of the lineup after he had three shots on net in 7:39 of ice time against the Red Wings.
“That line’s got a little bit of chemistry,” Sharks interim coach Bob Boughner said. “Suomela played a really good game as well on that line in Detroit. Melker’s a big part of our penalty kill. We missed him last game, you could see. We didn’t get scored on, but we had many chances against and (goalie Martin) Jones came up big on a few of them.”
The Sharks, who went 2-9-2 in December, entered Thursday in 15th place in the Western Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot.
“We need to have points. I still think we can make it. We’re not that far behind,” Karlsson said. “We just need to get on a roll and believe in ourselves that we can win.”
Noesen returns to Steel City
Noesen didn’t spend a ton of time with the Penguins, playing just six games from Dec. 4-14 before he was placed on waivers Dec. 18. The Sharks claimed him the next day.
Noesen signed an AHL contract with the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins on Oct. 4 and had 22 points in 22 games before he signed a one-year, two-way NHL deal with Pittsburgh on Dec. 2.
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“I think I proved as much as I could,” Noesen said of his time with the Pens. “It was a situation where they had some guys coming back and they wanted to clear some space.”
Looking for a spark against Detroit, Boughner moved Noesen up to the Sharks’ top line with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl for the third period. The trio had a Corsi-for percentage of 66.7 and generated one high danger chance.
Noesen finished the game with 12:43 of ice time, his most in five games with the Sharks.
“Noesen’s a guy that can make plays, he’s got patience with pucks, he doesn’t throw them away,” Boughner said. “He’s a guy you can put up on different lines and I think he can complement the offense a little bit.
“I do like the energy he’s playing on that line with Kellman and Melker right now. But I can see, even tonight at times, putting him up on different lines. It’s a nice piece to have.”
Noesen isn’t foreign to bigger minutes, as averaged around 13 minutes of ice time in 145 games with New Jersey from 2017-2019.
“You get a chance to get more in the rhythm of the game, a little more in the flow,” Noesen said. “We failed to do what we needed to do last game and hopefully we can bounce back.”
Power play tweaks
The Sharks, as one might expect, spent time in practice Wednesday on their beleaguered power play. Thursday, Boughner said the plan before the game was to watch video of the times they have scored with the man advantage this season.
“There was no back door, tap-in seam plays,” Boughner said of the examples. “It was getting pucks to the net with traffic and second and third opportunities. That’s what we’ve got to back to.
“I think we need to move the puck quicker on our power play. We’re holding onto it too long, so the penalty kill is getting organized against us. That’s one thing we’re concentrating on.”
The Sharks are 2 for 49 with the man advantage over their last 20 games, and entered Thursday ranked 29th in the NHL at 14.3 percent.
Boughner said the Sharks will adjust the personnel on their first power play unit as they try once again to find an approach that works.
“We’re getting away from that identity we had at the beginning of the season when we were a shooting power play,” Boughner said. “We don’t have a problem on our entries. We’re entering fine, getting set up fine. It’s just not having that mentality to simplify things sometimes.”