The Sharks will be without Erik Karlsson for the next two games, as the NHL suspended the defenseman for a hit to the head of Los Angeles Kings winger Austin Wagner.
Karlsson will miss San Jose's game on Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes, and against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. The suspension is the first of Karlsson's career, and the first supplemental discipline he has faced since he was fined $2,500 for a slash during the 2011-12 season.
San Jose’s Erik Karlsson has been suspended for two games for an illegal check to the head on Los Angeles’ Austin Wagner. https://t.co/Z0rvka0KQf— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 23, 2018
In the second period of the Sharks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Kings on Saturday, Karlsson leveled Wagner with an open-ice hit just outside of the Kings' defensive zone. Wagner skated to the Los Angeles bench under his own power, but was clearly shaken up.
Wagner did not return to the game, leaving with what the Kings called an "upper-body injury." Replays of the hit indicated Karlsson made contact with Wagner's head.
"[Karlsson] delivered a high hit to Wagner, making the head the main point of contact on a hit where such contact was avoidable," the department of player safety said in a video released Sunday.
Karlsson was not penalized on Saturday, and the defenseman told reporters after the game he felt it was a clean hit with an unfortunate outcome.
“It’s one of those plays [where] I’m closing [the] gap, and he skates into me,” Karlsson said. “I don’t really lean into him, I’m in his lane, and it’s a shoulder-to-shoulder hit.
“Unfortunately, he went down hard, and he didn’t come back, and I hope he’s OK. But at the end of the day, it’s a hockey play.”
In the video released Sunday, the NHL's department of player safety said they believed Karlsson was trying to make a "full-body hit," and not Wagner's head. They acknowledged Karlsson made some contact with Wagner's shoulder, but said the Sharks defenseman could have avoided hitting the Kings winger in the head.
"If Karlsson wishes to deliver this hit, he must take a better angle of approach and hit through Wagner's core rather than picking his head," the video said.
The Sharks will likely turn to one of two defensemen in Karlsson's absence: Fellow swedes Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan.
Heed, like Karlsson, is a right-handed shot with strong offensive instincts. Ryan's a lefty, but played in 25 of the Sharks' first 27 games before rookie defenseman Radim Simek took his place alongside Brent Burns. Ryan has not played since Dec. 1, and Heed last suited up on Nov. 23.