Injury shelves Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson before NHL All-Star break

A daunting schedule got more challenging after the Sharks learned of injured defenseman Erik Karlsson’s uncertain status.

Karlsson missed a visit to SAP Center by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, which began a stretch of five tough games for the Sharks against Eastern Conference playoff contenders before the NHL All-Star break.

Karlsson succumbed to an upper-body injury that has lingered for several games. It is not related to an oblique strain that sidelined the two-time Norris Trophy winner for consecutive games on Jan. 6-8.

Sharks coach Bob Boughner said Karlsson will mull options after further medical examination.

“We’ve just got to get through it, see what the doctors say and hopefully he can get better,” Boughner said.

With eight goals and 26 points in 33 games, Karlsson was enjoying a consistently productive season after his first three in San Jose have been interrupted with starts and stops associated with injury. Karlsson, 31, recently reached 500 career assists, doing so in 820 games.

Rookie Ryan Merkley, playing his 14th career game, was asked Saturday to help pick up the responsibilities of Karlsson, who logs the third-most average ice time for San Jose (23:06). Paired with Jaycob Megna, Merkley was to quarterback the team’s second power-play unit.

It’s possible that Karlsson, who missed six games earlier while in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols, could miss the team’s upcoming East Coast trip that already looks like a doozy.

“Playing a little scared…

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