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.