Reviewing Erik Karlsson’s start with Sharks

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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:

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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.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.