Erik Karlsson is back to being Erik Karlsson

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When it comes to special players like Erik Karlsson, really good doesn’t always feel like enough, and patience isn’t always easy to come by. It’s not always easy to accept that a player needs time to adjust to a new team, as he is with the San Jose Sharks.

And talk about regression and bounces eventually going his way? Boring.

Well, whether such talk is boring or illuminating (or both?), it sure seems like … *cough* the bounces are starting to go Karlsson’s way.

The Sharks are now on a five-game winning streak, and have also won seven of their last eight.

Karlsson’s heating up, too, as he extended a six-game point streak with an assist in Tuesday’s 4-0 win against the Minnesota Wild. He’s now at seven assists over those six contests, pushing his season totals to a more potent (though not yet truly “Karlsson-esque”) 23 points in 35 games.

Those 23 points in 35 games represent a .66-point-per-game pace, short of his career average with the Senators (.83), which went as high as a point per contest. But a lot of that can be chalked up to some growing pains, and some bad luck.

Karlsson himself agrees that he’s starting to settle in, as Paul Gackle of the Mercury News reports.

“I’m feeling better and better,” Karlsson said. “We’re playing good hockey, at times. We’re progressing as a team. That’s the most important part. Whether I feel like I’ve played my best hockey yet, I don’t think so. I have a lot more to give.”

Some of the reactions to playing with Karlsson echo the Boston Bruins being at-first bewildered when Jaromir Jagr would send unthinkable passes their way, and surely how Sharks players felt when Joe Thornton first arrived, so it’s funny to read Thornton himself describe San Jose players needing some time to realize that “whoa, he can make that play.”

(Feel free to picture that “whoa” in Keanu Reeves’ voice. I know I did.)

But maybe some of this big jump comes from Karlsson feeling confident enough to call his shot. Perhaps Karlsson needed some time to adjust from being “the guy” in Ottawa to “the new guy” in San Jose.

In fact, he’s piling up a pretty astounding number of shots lately.

Looking at his full season, Karlsson has 122 shots on goal over these 35 games, an average of 3.49. Compare that to 2017-18, when he finished with just 196 SOG in 71 games, or “just” 2.76 per night. Looking at Hockey Reference’s listings, he’s only averaged more than 3.49 SOG per game during two of his 10 seasons.

Those pucks have been piling up even more lately. Karlsson has 48 SOG in nine November games, including a nine-SOG night (in a win against Chicago on Sunday), six in Tuesday’s contest, and eight against Dallas on Dec. 7.

For some perspective: Nathan MacKinnon has 151 SOG in 34 games, good for 4.441 per game, while SOG leader Jack Eichel has 152 in 34 (4.34 per game), while Karlsson’s 48 SOG in nine games presents a 5.33 average. Wow.

All of that shooting hasn’t resulted in goals, but can lead to great things, including rebounds, faceoffs in the attacking zone, and generally rubber going the right way.

Personally, it feels a bit reminiscent of Brent Burns eventually seeing his career soar to new heights in San Jose, and under Peter DeBoer. Has DeBoer found some innovative ways to work Karlsson into the mix, ideally without taking away from Burns? It’s something to watch as the season goes along, or beyond, if the Sharks end up extending Karlsson.

(Conversely, will the Sharks end up being too reliant on point shots? Either way, it’s a pretty sweet “problem” to have.)

One other thing to watch: Will Karlsson continue to get so many of his attempts on net? Marcus White for NBC Sports California provided a deep breakdown of Karlsson’s hot streak heading into Tuesday’s game, noting that defenders haven’t had much success blocking Karlsson’s attempts as of late.

This post’s headline reflects the feeling many had for a while this season: that Karlsson wasn’t himself. That hasn’t always been fair – his underlying numbers were outstanding, and remain that way – but it’s nonetheless refreshing to see Karlsson racking up points again.

The ascent of other Pacific Division teams (the Flames, Ducks, and Oilers are all hot, too) might obscure some of the rise of Karlsson and the Sharks, but the bottom line is that this team is starting to look as scary as many of us expected heading into 2018-19.

It won’t be such a welcome sight for opponents.

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.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.