Marcus White

Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have been better than you think this season

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Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have been better than you think this season

No two defensemen have scored more points than Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns since 2014-15, when the former moved back to the blueline. The two finished second and first, respectively, in defensive scoring and Norris Trophy voting last season, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking at the scoring leaders this season.

Karlsson (18 points) is tied for 13th, and Burns (14) is tied for 34th. Yet amidst their respective slow starts, there’s still reason for optimism. 

Don’t let the scoring totals fool you: Saturday night’s tilt between the Sharks and Senators is a marquee matchup, because of Burns and Karlsson.

Both ended lengthy scoring droughts on Thursday. Burns’ overtime winner against the Hurricanes was his first goal since Black Friday, and Karlsson’s assist against the Kings was his first point in 11 games. 

Plus, Karlsson and Burns remain excellent possession players, even if the results haven’t come. At even strength, Senators have controlled 54.53 percent of the shot attempts with Karlsson on the ice in five-on-five situations, and 46.42 percent with him off of it. For the Sharks, it’s 55.48 percent with Burns on the ice, 51.09 percent with him off of it, per Corsica Hockey.

Neither player’s going to shoot less than two percent during five-on-five play, as they are so far, for the whole season. Both Karlsson and Burns are probably due for a turnaround. 

Even with his month-long drought in mind, Karlsson’s still been nothing short of impressive this season. Doctors removed “half [his] ankle bone” in surgery over the offseason, and he’s only had 22 games so far to adjust. 

He hasn’t been otherworldly enough to carry a subpar supporting cast into playoff position, as he did last season, but matching his career points per game (0.82) on 1.6 percent shooting and surgically repaired ankle is remarkable. 

Burns, meanwhile, appears to be rounding into form after a slow start. Since ending an eight-game stretch without a point on Nov. 22, he has scored seven points in his last eight games.

Since Nov. 12, Burns has had multiple shots on goal in every game. His 46 shots over that span are the most among defensemen, and the eighth-most among all skaters. 

Burns and Karlsson haven’t quite been themselves this season, but remain two of the best players at their position in despite that. Since Ottawa and San Jose only play each other twice a season, every game is one that should be savored, even as the two star defensemen aren’t necessarily at their best.

Here to stay: Barclay Goodrow exceeds expectations with Sharks

Here to stay: Barclay Goodrow exceeds expectations with Sharks

Barclay Goodrow’s celebration following his game-tying goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night said it all. 

The look on his face as he fist pumped following the shorthanded tally was one of exhilaration, coming in arguably the biggest spot of his 86-game, four-year NHL career. 

It was also, perhaps, one of relief, as if to say he’d finally made it.

Goodrow played 60 games as an undrafted rookie three years ago, suiting up for a shorthanded Sharks squad that was San Jose’s first to miss the postseason in a decade. He spent the next two years in San Jose, but with the AHL’s Barracuda. 

There, Goodrow established himself as a reliable regular for head coach Roy Sommer, and scored 45 goals over the last two seasons. He was even named an AHL All-Star in 2015-16. 

The 24-year-old looked to be a bit of a long shot to make the Sharks out of training camp this summer, and failing to do so could’ve meant the end of his time in San Jose, as Goodrow would need to be waived in order to get sent down to the AHL. 

That scenario never presented itself, and Goodrow not only made the team out of camp, but has become a regular for the Sharks when healthy. 

For the first time in his career, San Jose has the puck more than their opponents with Goodrow on the ice. In fact, the Sharks’ five-on-five possession numbers (corsi-for, or shot attempts, percentage) is 4.48 percent better with Goodrow on the ice than when he’s off of entering Thursday night’s game, according to Corsica Hockey.

That’s the third-best mark among San Jose forwards, and fifth-best on the team, according to Corsica Hockey. Goodrow himself is driving much of it, with only four Sharks attempting shots at a higher rate than him during five-on-five play, and four generating shots on goal at a higher rate. 

Goodrow's been fortunate, too, starting a career-high percentage of his non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. Plus, the Sharks have converted on 8.16 percent of their shots and stopped 94.87 percent of opponent’s shots when Goodrow’s played during five-on-five, the third and fourth-highest of any San Jose player this season.

Luck, however, can’t explain away Goodrow’s emergence this season. It’s only been nine games, but he’s made the most of his opportunity, all while lining up as a center for the first time in his professional career. 

So far, Goodrow’s exceeded expectations. Maintaining his performance is the difficult part, but doesn’t make his start any less impressive, or surprising. 

Sharks, Hurricanes separated by smallest of margins

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USATSI

Sharks, Hurricanes separated by smallest of margins

Few teams possess the puck more than the Sharks and Hurricanes, but plenty of teams score more.

According to Puck on Net, when adjusting for score and venue, San Jose and Carolina are in the top four of both major possession metrics (corsi and fenwick). They’re 11th and first in the league, respectively, in shots per game, and 29th and 30th in shots allowed.

The Hurricanes and Sharks are also first (54.43 percent) and 13th (50.96 percent) in five-on-five scoring chance percentage, per Natural Stat Trick. Despite this, neither team can finish: Carolina (7.53 percent) is 30th and San Jose is 29th (7.74 percent) in all situations, according to Corsica Hockey.

Unsurprisingly, both teams are in the bottom five of goals for per game this season. Yet, San Jose’s holding on to the last wild card spot in the Western Conference, with at least a game in hand on the three teams chasing them (Calgary, Anaheim, Minnesota), and on the two teams they’re chasing in the Pacific (Vegas, Vancouver).

Carolina, on the other hand, is six points out of the last wild card spot in the East, albeit with three games in hand. Goaltending, particularly on the penalty kill, has been the difference.

Across all situations, the Hurricanes have the league’s 23rd-best save percentage (.900), while the Sharks are second-best (.922). That gap is driven by a shorthanded save percentage disparity, as only half a percentage point separates San Jose (.925) and Carolina (.920) at even strength, per Corsica.

The Sharks have the league’s second-best penalty kill save percentage (.917), while the Hurricanes have the third-worst (.826). If Carolina had gotten San Jose’s shorthanded goaltending this season, they’d have allowed about seven fewer goals.

Excluding shootouts, the Hurricanes’ goal-differential is minus-seven.

The five-on-five difference, assuming they got the same goaltending as the Sharks, is approximately three goals. That’s on a much larger sample size (518 more shots) than the penalty kill.

That shorthanded difference can’t entirely be explained by each team’s respective defense. San Jose allows nearly five fewer scoring chances per 60 minutes on the penalty kill than Carolina, but the Hurricanes allow far fewer shots (50.4 shots against/60) than the Sharks do (59.7).

Taken as a whole, this demonstrates that the margins truly matter for teams struggling to score. The Sharks have gotten better goaltending on the penalty kill, if not necessarily a better defensive performance than the Hurricanes, and find themselves on the right side of the playoff bubble.

If they start to falter shorthanded, however, it’s easy to envision them in the same position as Carolina: on the outside looking in.