Joonas Donskoi shows his game-breaking talent in return to Sharks

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USATSI

Joonas Donskoi shows his game-breaking talent in return to Sharks

The San Jose Sharks sure missed Joonas Donskoi, didn’t they?

In his first game in 16 days, the Finnish winger made his presence felt during the Sharks’ 3-2 win over Calgary on Thursday. He assisted on San Jose’s first goal, and scored the game-winner, all in a tidy 13:42 in ice time, the fourth-fewest among Sharks forwards. 

San Jose did well enough in Donskoi’s absence. They went 3-2-1 and picked up seven points, buoyed by an explosion on the power play (six goals in six games) covering up for a lack of five-on-five scoring (nine goals). 

That trend reversed on Thursday, as the Sharks scored once on the power play and twice at even strength. Donskoi factored into both. 

His back-checking ensured San Jose got a clean zone entry, and eventually, a clean look at the goal when Timo Meier buried the rebound off of Chris Tierney’s shot. The game-winner was fortunate, yes, but once again a result of his hockey sense: Donskoi pulled up on Justin Braun’s cross-ice pass at the last second, allowing Thornton to shoot as he drove the net for a rebound. 

Two intelligent plays. Two goals. And ultimately, a Sharks win. 

His return benefitted San Jose on the scoresheet, but also aided the team on the lineup card. His presence allows the team to utilize players in proper roles, even when they aren’t completely healthy. 

The Sharks are still without Mikkel Boedker, and Melker Karlsson likely isn’t the right fit alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, but the forward lines on Thursday were close to ideal otherwise. Joel Ward and Jannik Hansen, both pressed into third-line duty at times in Donskoi’s absence, comprised two-thirds of a strong fourth line. 

Peter DeBoer will still need to tweak, as Ward, Hansen, and Marcus Sorensen were the only Sharks able to control a majority of the five-on-five shot attempts. The loss of possession, though, reveals another factor Donskoi brings to the lineup.

Game-breaking talent. 

It can only get you so far, and certainly can’t solely be relied upon over long stretches. But sometimes, on a given night when the rest of the team isn’t at their best, that talent is enough to eke out a win. 

Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Martin Jones at his best can all be relied upon to carry the Sharks at times. So, too, can Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, but recovery and injury, respectively, have hampered their effectiveness at times this season. 

Donskoi is another player who fits that mold, and makes San Jose’s offense far more difficult for opponents to handle. He may not be their most valuable player this season, but he’s arguably the most important.

Melker Karlsson's scoring masks deeper problem

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USATSI

Melker Karlsson's scoring masks deeper problem

In the Sharks’ bid to find consistent offensive production, Melker Karlsson is the latest winger to skate alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. He’ll get another look there in San Jose’s tilt with the Calgary Flames on Thursday, the first of a three-game road trip through western Canada.

It’s not his first Joe-deo. The trio has played over 700 five-on-five minutes together dating back to Karlsson’s rookie season in 2014-15, per Corsica Hockey. 

Familiarity hasn’t necessarily bred success, however. Of the 23 lines that have played at least 100 minutes together since 2014-15, Karlsson-Thornton-Pavelski ranks 13th in goals per 60 minutes (2.5). 

If you only look at head coach Peter DeBoer’s tenure, the line is 12th, but out of 18 combinations that spent 100 minutes together (2.15). That’s, at least in part, because the trio doesn’t generate a lot of shots together.

Their 26.86 shots per 60 is the fifth-worst rate among those same lines. In fact, Karlsson’s skated on four of the five-worst lines by that metric. 

The 27-year-old has legitimate finishing talent, converting on at least 10 percent of his shots in each of his four NHL seasons. The problem is that he doesn’t shoot all that much. 

He’s shooting at an individual rate of 5.69 shots per 60 minutes during five-on-five play, which represents an improvement over last season (5.42). Should that hold, it’ll be the first time he’s shot at a higher rate than the previous season. 

A few more pucks are getting on net, but Karlsson is actually attempting less shots (10.24 individual corsi-for per 60) than he did last season (10.34). That’s the third straight season of year-over-year decline. 

Despite that, Karlsson’s scored two goals in his last three games, and has five on the season. Now, he’s on pace for a career-high in goals, on the back of a career-high 17.2 percent shooting percentage. 

His ability to convert on limited opportunities masks just that: Karlsson doesn’t generate a whole lot of opportunities. He’s shown himself to be a good enough shooter to mitigate his lack of shot generation, so long as he’s not mired in a slump. 

An injection of finishing ability may be what the top line needs, and Karlsson’s hard-working, puck-retrieving style seems like an on-paper fit alongside Thornton and Pavelski’s respective skillsets. But as long as the trio struggles to generate shots, it’s not a given that they’ll be able to make the most of limited chances.

Sharks lose defensive forward to division rival

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AP

Sharks lose defensive forward to division rival

The San Jose Sharks’ center depth took a hit Wednesday morning, as the Vegas Golden Knights claimed center Ryan Carpenter off of waivers. The Sharks waived Carpenter on Tuesday in an effort to send him to their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.

Vegas was interested in Carpenter dating back to June’s expansion draft, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun. The Sharks re-signed Carpenter a day before the deadline to submit their protected list, and included him on that list at the expense of signed veteran forwards like Mikkel Boedker and Joel Ward, as well as then-pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

When addressing reporters on Tuesday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was optimistic that Carpenter would go unclaimed and get a chance to work on things with San Jose’s top minor league affiliate.

“Sometimes you need to take a step back in order to move forward,” DeBoer told reporters Tuesday (via The Mercury News). “That’s kind of the case with Ryan. He did some good stuff. But take a step back, find your game again and hopefully next time get back up here and make the most of it.”

Carpenter will get a chance to do just that sooner than expected, and with a new organization. The 26-year-old, who led the Barracuda in postseason scoring, only scored a single assist in 16 games with the Sharks this season.

Part of that was due to usage, as Carpenter started 38.03 of his non-neutral zone shifts at even strength in the defensive zone, the highest mark on the team according to Corsica Hockey. That, in turn, likely affected his possession numbers, as the Sharks were out-attempted with him on the ice.

Still, the Sharks are going to miss his defensive acumen, as no player suppressed five-on-five goal at a higher rate relative to when they were off the ice than Carpenter, per Corsica. They’ll also miss his experience relative to their other options at his position.

As long as Tomas Hertl remains on the wing, the Sharks are left with Danny O’Regan and Barclay Goodrow as options to center the fourth line. O’Regan was recalled from the Barracuda on Tuesday, but has appeared overmatched at times in his second professional season.

Goodrow, meanwhile, is in his fourth, but is playing center for essentially the first time in his professional career. He’s exceeded expectations when he’s been in the lineup, but is now on injured reserve for the second time this season.