SAN JOSE -- You could see over the Sharks' last two games they missed having Erik Karlsson on the ice. The boost the defenseman provides on both sides of the ice, and in every phase of the game, was no doubt missed.
But one thing Karlsson mentioned to the media before he began serving his two-game suspension was that he had every bit of faith his teammates would rise to the occasion in his absence.
"I think they're going to rally around it," the two-time Norris Trophy winner said Sunday before the Sharks hosted the Arizona Coyotes. "I think we have a great team in there no matter who we're missing."
If anybody rallied, it was the two blue-liners who took his place over the last two games.
Both Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed had taken turns playing with Brent Burns in the early part of the season, but neither had seen any game action since Czech rookie Radim Simek made his debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 2. Ryan hadn't played since Dec. 1, and Heed hadn't since Nov. 23. That's a significant amount of time where both players were practicing with the team and then observing games from afar.
Ryan told NBC Sports California ahead of San Jose's 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks he spent that time studying what the Sharks' defense was doing, as well as how the opposition played.
"My whole life, when I'm watching hockey, as a defenseman you watch your team and you watch the defensemen on the other team," he explained. "You see if you can pick anything up. Just watching the game and working out the D on both sides."
The observation paid off when Ryan drew back into the lineup Thursday evening against the Ducks. He tallied a secondary assist when his shot from the blue line led to Marcus Sorensen's second-period goal and ended the evening with a plus-1.
Heed also had a positive impact when he returned to the lineup on Dec. 23 --a whole month since the last time he'd seen any game action. Although the Sharks lost to the Coyotes, Heed lit the lamp by putting the Sharks up 1-0 with a slap shot on the power play.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer extended Heed's ice time as the contest went on, and even paired him back up with Burns for a few shifts. His performance was strong enough there was some brief speculation that another strong performance against the Ducks could earn him a ticket back into the lineup over Simek. But Heed, unfortunately, sustained an injury in that game and was sidelined while Ryan filed into the lineup. He returned to practice on Friday ahead of San Jose's road trip up to Canada.
Which brings us up to speed. With Karlsson returning to game action against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, both Ryan and Heed go back to practicing with the team and then watching from afar. It isn't readily clear when either skater will play again. After Simek's strong outing against Anaheim on Thursday, it doesn't appear he'll be scratched from the lineup as the Sharks roadie gets underway.
For the time being, though, the Sharks can take comfort in knowing they have two ready and willing options to choose from if they need someone to fill in on the blue line.