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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.

***

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.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.