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Morning Skate: Sharks, Kings set for season rubber match

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Morning Skate: Sharks, Kings set for season rubber match

Programming note: Sharks-Kings coverage starts tonight at 7pm on NBCSN.

Where they stand

Sharks: 41-28-6, 88 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Kings: 45-25-5, 95 points, 1st Pacific Division

Playoff picture

The Sharks will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Kings in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Kings AND the Coyotes lose to the Flames in any fashion OR if the Coyotes lose to the Flames in regulation.

The Sharks trail the Kings by seven points and the Ducks by four points. Anaheim, which has one game in hand, visits Edmonton on Monday.

The latest

Sharks: The Sharks lost their third straight game, all in regulation and all at home, on Saturday to Dallas, 4-2. San Jose is 2-3-0 on its season long six-game homestand, which concludes tonight. The Sharks will be trying for the fourth straight game to clinch a playoff spot.

Kings: Los Angeles halted its three-game losing streak by beating the Oilers at home on Saturday, 6-4. It was their ninth straight home win over lowly Edmonton. The Kings are one win away from tying their franchise record for most in a season.

Keep an eye on…

Sharks: Roman Polak. In 17 games with the Sharks since he was acquired from Toronto, the defenseman has two assists and a minus-four rating. More importantly, he’s added some physicality and meanness on the back end, and that’s been on display recently. Considering how heavy Sharks-Kings meetings typically are, Polak should show his value in games like tonight.

Kings: Tyler Toffoli. The 23-year-old forward leads the Kings with 29 goals, and is coming off of a four-point effort against the Oilers on Saturday (2g, 2a). The former second round pick in 2010 is trying to become the Kings’ first 30-goal scorer since Anze Kopitar in 2009-10.

Probable lines

Sharks
Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Patrick Marleau – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Dainius Zubrus – Tommy Wingels

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Dylan DeMelo – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Roman Polak

Martin Jones (confirmed starter)
James Reimer

Kings
Tanner Pearson – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Milan Lucic – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King – Vincent Lecavalier – Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford – Nic Dowd – Andy Andreoff

Brayden McNabb – Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez
Rob Scuderi – Luke Schenn

Jonathan Quick
Jhonas Enroth

Vitals

Sharks
Goals per game: 2.88 (3rd)
Goals-against per game: 2.57 (14th)
Power play: 22.1 percent (4th)
Penalty kill: 79.9 percent (23rd)

Kings
Goals per game: 2.72 (13th)
Goals-against per game: 2.31 (1st)
Power play: 22.8 percent (8th)
Penalty kill: 81.4 percent (15th)

Injuries/Scratches

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (lower body) is questionable. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower body), Matt Nieto (hand) and Matt Tennyson (concussion) are out.

Kings: Kris Versteeg (upper body), Matt Greene (shoulder surgery), Marian Gaborik (knee) and Jordan Nolan (herniated disc) are out.

Season series

The Sharks are 2-1-1 against the Kings this season headed into tonight’s fifth and final meeting of the season series. The road team has won all four.

Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with eight points against the Kings (4g, 4a) while Jeff Carter has five points versus San Jose (2g, 3a).

Odds and ends

*The Sharks are 2-5-1 without defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the lineup.

*Brent Burns has 324 shots on goal this season, a new franchise record.

*San Jose has not lost four straight games in regulation since Dec. 1-8.

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

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USATSI

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

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That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

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Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.