Erik Karlsson injury scares should send Sharks message about rest

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People love to celebrate the toughness of hockey players, but sometimes, there comes a point where it’s better to be smart.

There’s an “easier said than done” element when it comes to considering “best practices.” For instance, if your team is barely holding onto a playoff spot, it might be tough to rest that crucial starting goalie.

The San Jose Sharks aren’t really in that position, though. While they’d like to catch the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific, a round of home-ice advantage looks pretty safe for them as of Tuesday, so they have the luxury to make wise decisions.

And here’s the wise decision, if you ask me (among others, including PHT’s Adam Gretz): the Sharks need to rest Erik Karlsson.

So far this season, Karlsson’s missed 10 games thanks to a nagging groin injury. Via The Sports Forecaster’s helpful listings, nine of those missed games came from mid-January to mid-February, and then the issues cropped up again right before the trade deadline.

After missing one more game, Karlsson returned for Tuesday’s contest against the Boston Bruins, and seemed to tweak that injury once again.

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if Karlsson gritted his teeth to return to that game against the Bruins, or miss minimal time. But this issue sure seems like it’s lingering for the 28-year-old star.

If the Sharks were desperately fighting for every point, resting Karlsson would be a tougher sell. Instead, San Jose’s pretty comfortably placed in second place in the Pacific, while leaping to first would be a challenge:

Standings heading into Tuesday’s action

Three points is a tougher hurdle to clear than you might think, at least this late in the season, particularly since the Flames also hold a game in hand on the Sharks. Vegas is much more likely to fall out of the Pacific’s top three than catch San Jose.

So why not rest Karlsson, a player who’s clearly struggling with groin issues?

Really, the Sharks should be especially interested in the advantages of rest that we’ve seen embraced in other leagues, such as with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich deployed such methods during their most competitive days, and that seemed to pay off.

The Sharks have a lot going for them, but aside from a few exceptions like rising 22-year-old winger Timo Meier, this isn’t a young team. Brent Burns is older than casual fans might think at 33. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 31, and Karlsson is 28, and both of those defensemen have accrued a ton of mileage for their age. Joe Pavelski is somehow 34. Even Gustav Nyquist isn’t a spring chicken – at least in a league that demands speed like the NHL does these days – at 29.

(In other words, 39-year-old Joe Thornton isn’t the only guy battling Father Time in San Jose.)

At minimum, it just makes overwhelming sense for the Sharks to play it safe with a player who’s clearly not at 100-percent in Karlsson. Would you rather risk burnout to marginally improve odds of winning your division, or would you rather give your talented – but aging – roster as good a chance as possible at being fully healthy during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when you’re in for grueling battles every other night?

Plenty of other teams should be thinking about resting their big-minute guys (looking at you, Lightning), but the signs are basically neon flashing lights for the Sharks with Karlsson.

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.

Surging Sharks in perfect position

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While most of this year’s wild Western Conference flails about looking for the last wild card spot, the San Jose Sharks can smell blood in the water.

After throttling the Vancouver Canucks Monday night 7-2, the Sharks have now won six straight games – five of them on the road – and seized the top spot in the West. They’re averaging five goals per game during that stretch and they’ve done it all without Erik Karlsson.

San Jose’s depth has been exemplary. Fourteen of 18 skaters registered at least one point against Vancouver alone. Eleven different players on the Sharks have multiple game-winning goals this season, tied with the New York Islanders for most in the league. Led by Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, their 166 points by defensemen leads the NHL. The Sharks are also the only team in the league to have five different players – Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Logan Couture – with 20 goals or more.

“If you look at the dynamics of this team, their secondary players are, a lot of times, their best players,” former Shark and current NHL on NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick told Pro Hockey Talk. “I say their secondary players being Hertl, Meier, (Melker) Karlsson played well (Monday) night. You have (Marcus) Sorensen who has just been an amazing work horse on that team that brings a lot of energy to that hockey club. (Joonas) Donskoi – these are all of their second-tier guys. A lot of the times, they’re the ones winning hockey games for them.”

That’s not to say the stars haven’t stepped up as well. Evander Kane has been red hot with 15 goals in his last 16 games dating back to Jan. 2, which leads the NHL during that span. He’s on pace for a career-high 37 goals, which is exactly what the Sharks envisioned when they signed Kane to a seven-year, $49 million extension last May.

“I talk to a lot of guys on that team and they say that if (Kane) prepared and got ready to play every single game and was consistent, he would be one of the best players in the National Hockey League,” Roenick said. “That’s saying something when it’s coming from your teammates.”

Next up for San Jose is a three-game homestand against three playoff contenders in the Capitals, Canucks and Bruins, followed by a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Detroit and Boston. It seems like a two-team race between the Sharks and Flames for the top spot in the Pacific, and a four-team battle for the top spot in the west between San Jose, Calgary, Winnipeg and Nashville.

“There’s some good teams there,” Pavelski told reporters after the Vancouver win. “Being in first would help.”

On paper, Pavelski is right. The top seed in the West this season will have the pleasure of hosting one of the slew of teams gunning for playoff position. Since nine teams are currently within eight points of the final wild card spot, whichever team outlasts the others will have conceivably spent a lot of energy doing so over the stretch run of the regular season. That said, anyone that watches the NHL knows any team can make a run in April. The Sharks understand that all too well. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 behind a franchise record 117 points, San Jose lost in the first round in six games to the Anaheim Ducks. Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all played in that series. Given their history, it is unlikely the Sharks would take any opening round opponent for granted.

“I think this is a different team, a different focus of a team,” said Roenick, a member of that 2008-09 Sharks club. “One thing you have to really take into consideration is, is this going to be Joe Thornton’s last year? That’s going to be something that’s going to be talked about quietly around the locker room among the guys and I think the focus is going to be much greater game in and game out…(The Sharks) are the only ones that can beat themselves right now. When they play their style of game, they dominate pretty much every team they play against, road or home.”

As for Thornton, the Sharks legend had one assist on Monday to pass Gordie Howe for ninth on the NHL’s all-time assists list and tie Teemu Selanne for 15th in all-time points. The sure-fire Hall of Famer is in his 21st season, but has only had one crack at a Stanley Cup Final (in 2016). Whispers of Thornton’s potential retirement could be quite the rallying cry for the Sharks in the playoffs.

“I played for 20 years and maybe with the exception of Chris Chelios, I have never seen a player be loved or be so respected in a locker room than Joe Thornton,” Roenick said. “I can honestly tell you that there is not one person in that organization – player, trainer, upper management, office people – that doesn’t absolutely love Joe Thornton through and through. You can’t say that about a lot of people. That’s an amazing compliment to a guy who has had such a glorious and Hall of Fame career.”

Barring an astounding stretch in the final two months of the season, San Jose’s franchise record of 117 points is safe. But this could very well be the deepest team the Sharks have ever had and one that could do what no other San Jose team has: hoist the Stanley Cup.

Coyotes end Sharks unbeaten run to start 2019

And then there were none.

The last team to avoid losing in 2019 has now lost. The Arizona Coyotes took advantage of San Jose Sharks team playing the second half of a back to back in a 6-3 win on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, snapping the Sharks seven-game unbeaten run to begin the new year.

The Coyotes looked solid in the game, unlike a team in their lowly position in the Western Conference. The Sharks looked tired at times, despite a late-game push that briefly put them within a goal of tying the game.

Lawson Crouse and Richard Panik gave Arizona a 2-0 lead inside the first five minutes of the game. Panik’s goal proved to be of added significance for the Coyotes, as it was their 12th shorthanded goal of the season to establish a new franchise record.

The scoring frenzy continued, with Kevin Labanc pulling the Sharks within one at 6:53 of the opening frame. But Arizona emerged from the break and fired two more past Aaron Dell, who got the start after Martin Jones engineered a 22-save performance in a 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.

Dell saw 38 shots in the game, ending with 34 saves.

Darcy Kuemper got the start for Arizona, stopping 26-of-29 and has now won four consecutive starts.

Evander Kane Logan Couture brought the Sharks to 4-2 with less than five minutes left in the third, but an unwarranted penalty from Timo Meier (and a horrible giveaway from Erik Karlsson) allowed Alex Galchenyuk to seal it. Josh Archibald flung in an empty netter with less than a minute to go and that was that.

Arizona has been on a bit of a role, despite getting thrashed 7-1 by the Calgary Flames on Sunday. They had won three straight before that and now have wins in four of their past five to keep them within four points of the final wild card in the West.

The Sharks remain two points back of those Flames for tops in the Pacific Division. Calgary has a game in hand and lost to Buffalo in overtime on Wednesday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit on Coyotes on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. Coverage begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Seven games in 2019 have equated to seven straight wins for the San Jose Sharks, who own the longest active winning streak in the NHL.

The Sharks are doing so well that they’ve climbed into second place in the Pacific Divison and can take top spot if the first-place Calgary Flames lose to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sharks come into the game having played on Tuesday, with Tomas Hertl scoring a hat trick to down the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.

It might be time, then, for the Coyotes to capitalize.

Arizona has won three of its past four and sends Darcy Kuemper into the crease. Kuemper has won four straight starts

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Arizona Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Coyotes stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander Kane — Tomas Hertl — Joonas Donskoi
Melker KarlssonBarclay GoodrowKevin Labanc

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Tim HeedJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Aaron Dell

COYOTES

Clayton KellerJordan WealChristian Fischer
Richard PanikDerek StepanVinnie Hinostroza
Alex GalchenyukNick CousinsConor Garland
Lawson CrouseMario KempeJosh Archibald

Oliver Ekman-LarssonNiklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob ChychrunIlya Lyubushkin
Jordan OesterleAlex Goligoski

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

WATCH LIVE: Kings battle Sharks on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks with coverage beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite still being in the basement of the Pacific Division, there is some room for optimism for the Kings. LA has won six of its last nine games and beaten some good competition along the way, with victories over Winnipeg, San Jose, Vegas and Colorado. Their latest win came on Saturday in a 4-0 drubbing of the Edmonton Oilers.

Anze Kopitar scored his 300th career goal during the Edmonton game and became the fifth player in franchise history to reach that mark, joining Luc Robitaille (557), Marcel Dionne (550), Dave Taylor (431) and Bernie Nicholls (327). Jonathan Quick needed just 16 saves in the shutout, which was also his 300th career win. The Connecticut native is the fifth U.S.-born goalie to reach the 300 wins.

The Sharks had arguably their best win of the season on Saturday in a 5-2 victory over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. San Jose’s win snapped Tampa’s winning streak at seven and their point streak at 16. The Sharks became the first team to defeat the Lightning in regulation since Anaheim did so on Nov. 27 (3-1 W). They’ve been red hot since early December, with wins in 11 of their last 16 games (11-3-2).

With two assists on Saturday, Erik Karlsson extended his personal point streak to 12 games (1G, 18A), which is the longest active streak in the NHL. He did miss two games (Dec. 23 and 27) in this stretch due to a suspension from a hit to the head of Kings forward Austin Wagner when these teams last met.

Karlsson is the 21st different defenseman in NHL history to record record at least one point in 12 or more consecutive appearances and just the third to do so in the last 20 years (since 1998-99), joining Mathieu Schneider (Detroit) in 2006 (12 games) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia) in 2016 (15 games).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Monday, Jan. 7, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate Thompson – Austin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinSean Walker
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin Labanc – Barclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Erik Karlsson
Jacob Middleton – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jamie Baker (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Kings-Sharks from SAP Center at San Jose. Paul Burmeister hosts studio coverage alongside analyst Anson Carter.

MORE: Timo Meier powering Sharks during breakout season