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Morning Skate Notes & Quotes: Karlsson still out, Labanc in against rookie-laden Chicago

Six rookies played in Chicago’s last game, but the Sharks don’t expect a fundamentally different Blackhawks club.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

SAN JOSE — Melker Karlsson was one of the last skaters who left the ice at the San Jose Sharks’ optional morning skate, and will not play tonight, according to head coach Pete DeBoer.

“He’s getting better every day,” DeBoer said. “He’s getting close, not in tonight though.”

Karlsson injured his left ankle in a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 12, and has not played since. In Karlsson’s absence, rookie Kevin Labanc and Micheal Haley will both play tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The morning skate was optional, and goaltender Martin Jones did not participate. But, DeBoer confirmed that Jones will start tonight. Based on what San Jose’s lineup looked like last game, I’d imagine the lines will look like this:

Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Joonas Donskoi-Logan Couture-Joel Ward

Matt Nieto-Chris Tierney-Mikkel Boedker

Micheal Haley-Tommy Wingels-Kevin Labanc

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-David Schlemko

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

Tommy Wingels is a good bet to center the fourth line. He began the season in that spot. With Daniel O’Regan being sent back down to the Barracuda and Marleau playing on the top line, the Sharks do not currently have any other centers on their roster in Hertl’s absence.

“Same guys driving the bus” for Chicago

Six rookies played in Chicago’s last game on Saturday against Edmonton. With the salary cap crunch three Stanley Cups in the last six years have created, the pieces surrounding Chicago’s core are largely unrecognizable.

Pete DeBoer said he’s experienced an infusion of young players when the Florida Panthers cleared salary in his final season in Sunrise. But, he didn’t have the same amount of star players to build around.

“It’s always easier when you have Kane, Toews, Hossa, Seabrook, Keith, and those guys,” DeBoer said. “But they’ve done a good job of incorporating young guys into that group, and still being very good.”

Chicago holds the top spot in the Central Division and the Western Conference, but the underlying numbers suggest they aren’t as formidable as they have been in recent years. Adjusting for score and venue, they sit 12th in Corsi and 16th in Fenwick.

They’ve gotten great goaltending, as Corey Crawford has the sixth-best even strength save percentage of netminders that have played at least 100 minutes this season. But, their star players have been fairly strong at even strength.

As the chart below from TSN’s Travis Yost shows, there’s a noticeable difference in the possession numbers between Chicago’s top six and bottom six forwards.

Sharks center Tommy Wingels said that San Jose’s approach against the Blackhawks remains the same because Chicago’s identity remains centered around their longest-tenured players.

“They’re a good team regardless,” Wingels said. “I think they always have the speed and skill and the identity of that team and their core pieces are certainly still there.

“Their peripheral players are a little bit different, absolutely. But it’s the same guys driving the bus and the same guys you need to be aware of. It’s a familiar team. We know how they want to play, what they thrive off of, and I think we know what kind of game needs to beat that game.”

Quote of the Day

Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer was asked if he would be able to put up with newly extended Brent Burns for eight more seasons, and gave a tongue-in-cheek response:

I know his contract goes a lot longer than mine does, so I don’t know if that’s going to have to be a problem or not. We’ll see.