We may soon see Sharks at their best

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With a 6-3-2 record, the San Jose Sharks have been fine (good enough to lead a shaky Pacific Division), yet they haven’t been lighting the scoreboard on fire like many expected after landing Erik Karlsson. It’s easy to blurt out “small sample size,” yet with 11 games played, you could “build a file” on San Jose.

There are a few reasons to be excited about the near future, starting with Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers.

Take a moment to dig a little deeper on the Sharkies.

The return

So far in 2018-19, Joe Thornton has been limited to two games played and about 32 minutes of ice time, collecting an assist before swelling in his knee sidelined him once again.

At age 39 and with 1,495 regular-season games (plus 160 playoff contests) under his belt – and, most worrisome, recent surgical procedures for both knees – it’s fair to wonder what Thornton can contribute. “Jumbo Joe” can bend a game to his will thanks to his smarts, strength, and size, but there’s a cutoff point where Thornton could be slowed too much.

In other words, there are some reasons to curb enthusiasm for Thornton’s return, which is happening tonight – along with the re-bearding process:

We’ve discussed the potential hiccups, but the Sharks could be awfully interesting if Thornton’s close to his full form.

It will be interesting, for one thing, to see how the Sharks’ lines shake out. As of the morning skate, Thornton looks to get his familiar running mate Joe Pavelski back, while Timo Meier could conceivably be the latest young gun to get the Jumbo Boost. Logan Couture centers Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc, while Evander Kane gets pushed down to the third line.

The dream for the Sharks is that they could send wave after wave of attackers against overwhelmed opponents. Considering the Rangers’ flaws, Tuesday stands as an opportunity to build early confidence.

From a challenging schedule to robust opportunities

The Sharks’ 6-3-2 record goes from a shoulder shrug to a thumb up when you consider the hurdles they’ve mostly cleared. Most obviously, they’ve played eight games on the road versus just three at home.

As The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz details (sub required), the challenges go deeper for this California crew thanks to travel and time zone considerations:

Out of the 11 games the Sharks have played so far this season, they’ve changed time zones before five of them, or nearly half. That includes all three games of their recent road trip, when they went to Nashville (CST), Carolina (EST) and Anaheim (PST). Their previous road trip saw the Sharks go from Los Angeles to New York, where they played four games against the Metropolitan Division before returning for a brief two-game homestand.

Less than four weeks into the season, the Sharks have already crisscrossed the nation twice.

The Sharks are now set to enjoy quite the pay-off.

Tuesday’s game against the Rangers begins a four-game homestand, and the situation is even cushier once you zoom out a bit, as they’ll play 10 of their next 12 games in San Jose.

Tue, Oct 30: vs. Rangers
Thu, Nov 1: vs. Columbus
Sat, Nov 3: vs. Philadelphia
Tue, Nov 6: vs. Minnesota
Thu, Nov 8: at Dallas
Fri, Nov 9: at St. Louis
Sun, Nov 11: vs. Calgary
Tue, Nov 13: vs. Nashville
Thu, Nov 15: vs. Toronto
Sat, Nov 17: vs. St. Louis
Tue, Nov 20: vs. Edmonton
Fri, Nov 23: vs. Vancouver

This next month-ish stretch provides San Jose with chances to pull away from the Pacific pack, and there aren’t a ton of back-to-backs to leave Thornton and other veterans weary. (They might even be smart to allow Thornton to rest on one of those back-to-back road games.)

It could also open the door for Erik Karlsson to get more settled in …

Mixed reviews on Karlsson

Earlier this season, PHT took a look at Karlsson’s up-and-down start. With seven assists but still zero goals in his first 11 games, it seems like Karlsson remains effective, yet also a work in progress.

The debate surrounding Karlsson’s been quite fascinating, really.

On one hand, there are deeper looks that paint a less pleasant picture of the star defenseman as he acclimates himself to a new team:

Meanwhile, Sharks blog Fear the Fin provided high praise for the pairing of Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, which you can read here.

Interestingly, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer seems to have placed his defensive pairings in a blender, partnering Brent Burns with Joakim Ryan, Karlsson with Brenden Dillon, and Vlasic with Justin Braun.

This is ultimately the time of year when it makes extra sense to tinker. Either way, this could really be the stretch where Karlsson gels with his new team, as he’ll be able to avoid some of that extra travel, while DeBoer gets the last line change most nights.

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Things aren’t perfect for the Sharks, yet they currently lead the Pacific (both San Jose and Vancouver have 14 points, but San Jose has two games in hand).

For all we know, it may take more time to see this team’s best, but there’s a strong chance that November may offer a glimpse of the Sharks’ ceiling.

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.