The San Jose Sharks must have felt some real relief last night.
Not only did they beat the Buffalo Sabres by a convincing 5-1 score, but their power play finally looked about as good on the ice as it looked in nerdy hockey daydreams.
Even so, The Erik Karlsson Experiment remains a work in progress. The Sharks are merely 3-3-1 to begin the 2018-19 season, and Karlsson’s failed to score his first goal with San Jose, settling for four assists in seven games.
That’s such a small sample size that it would be silly to get too concerned … but it’s a small-enough sample that we can also take a look at his work from a game-by-game basis without numbing your scrolling finger:
Oct. 3: 5-2 loss to Ducks (more here).
Peter DeBoer wasn’t shy about rolling Karlsson out during his debut, as the Swede logged 26:48 TOI in what was a frustrating loss to the Ducks.
Karlsson failed to score a point in his first game, suffering a -2 rating, firing one shot on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking two shots.
Oct. 5: 3-2 OT win against Kings.
Karlsson’s second game for San Jose was a busy one. Along with grabbing his first assist with the Sharks, Karlsson logged almost 30 minutes (29:27 TOI), had a +1 rating, fired four SOG, and blocked four shots.
That helper came during Kevin Labanc‘s overtime game-winner, so it was an eventual first point in teal.
Oct. 8: 4-0 loss to Islanders.
Boy, California-area teams have endured some strangely lopsided losses against the would-be woeful Islanders, haven’t they? (The Kings lost 7-2 to the Isles last night).
In what was Karlsson’s on-paper worst performance with the Sharks so far, he failed to generate a point while posting a -3 rating in 28:27 TOI. Karlsson didn’t pull the trigger much in this one, either, managing just one SOG.
Oct. 9: 8-2 win against Flyers.
So, on less rest, the Sharks turned around and bombarded a team that’s expected to be pretty good in the Flyers. Yes, the beginning of an NHL season is often strange; why do you ask?
Despite a relatively modest amount of ice time (23:34), Karlsson produced his only multi-point output of his stay with San Jose so far, collecting two assists. He also fired three SOG, delivered four hits, and enjoyed a +2 rating.
Oct. 11: 3-2 OT loss to the Rangers.
In 26:26 TOI, Karlsson was unable to generate a point in that tight loss to New York. While he finished the night with a -2 rating, Karlsson was pretty active, firing three SOG.
Oct. 14: 3-2 loss to Devils.
This seems like another especially frustrating game for Karlsson and the Sharks. He was whistled for four penalty minutes, and couldn’t notch a point despite landing six SOG. Karlsson finished this loss with a -1 rating in 25 minutes and four seconds of ice time.
Oct. 18: 5-1 win against Sabres.
Last night, Karlsson generated an assist and two SOG in a more limited 20:59 TOI. Interestingly, DeBoer decided to split Karlsson and Brent Burns up on two different power-play units, and it sure seemed to pay off, with San Jose going 3-for-7.
Logan Couture believes that it was a good tweak, as The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports (sub required).
“I think changing that up and having both of those guys on different units to get the middle of the ice where they’re both comfortable — it felt better as a participant on the power play, and I’m sure it looked better from up top,” Couture said. “Both those guys are comfortable in that spot. They both wanted to be there. I think that gives us two strong units now.”
Oh, Karlsson also made this move last night:
So, the game-by-game approach indicates that things are hit-or-miss, as expected from his full seven-game stats.
There are plenty of bright sides, though. For one thing, Karlsson’s possession stats seem as strong as usual, and it looks like DeBoer is going to find ways to get him on the ice in offensive situations.
Some deeper stats should also reassure Karlsson and the Sharks about how his puck luck should soon improve.
Karlsson’s even-strength PDO is a very unlucky 90.7 (100 is something of a cut-off for normal luck), while his on-ice shooting percentage is just 6.3-percent, far below his career average of 8.5. Even Karlsson’s critics would likely acknowledge that he hasn’t been getting many bounces early on in his Sharks career.
Does that mean that the Sharks will find the perfect balance to get the most out of Karlsson, Burns, and their other talented players? That remains to be seen, but expect better results from Karlsson himself, possibly very soon.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.