Erik Karlsson shows he's Sharks' driving force in big win over Oilers

Erik Karlsson shows he's Sharks' driving force in big win over Oilers

The Sharks were only without defenseman Erik Karlsson for two games. But there was no mistaking in those two contests how pivotal he has become to San Jose.

“You take him for granted a little bit, then when he’s out, you realize,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer admitted to the media on Saturday.

In his return to the ice in a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers, you never would’ve known the two-time Norris Trophy winner missed any time at all. Karlsson tallied four points on Saturday, and led the team with a plus-5 rating.

Yet, teammate Logan Couture thought Karlsson could’ve done even more.

“I think he finished with four points, probably could’ve had eight or nine,” Couture said after the win. “He didn’t miss a beat, that’s for sure. All over the ice, making plays.”

It was quite the response from Karlsson after the NHL's department of player safety suspended him for two games. Karlsson’s hit on Los Angeles Kings forward Austin Wagner ahead of the Christmas break. The Sharks admitted they weren’t fans of Karlsson’s punishment – Couture told the media the team didn’t “agree with the suspension, but nothing you can do about it.”

But in many ways, the defenseman’s performance was a perfect response to being handed the first suspension of his career.

While Karlsson’s second-period goal was his first in a month, his work setting up three other goals on the afternoon was even more impressive. He led the charge after Edmonton got on the scoreboard first by leading a speedy 3-on-1 back into Oilers’ territory and serving up a slick cross-ice pass to Joonas Donskoi to tie the game.

On Tomas Hertl’s go-ahead goal, Karlsson stopped the Oilers from clearing the puck from their zone and kept the Sharks’ zone time alive. When setting up Melker Karlsson in the third period, he used a mix of speed and discipline to carry the puck behind Edmonton’s net before serving up his fellow countryman with a centering shot.

Every goal was scored differently, showcasing the many different facets of Karlsson’s work as the set-up guy.

“This was probably his best game this season,” Hertl said. “He was awesome. He was really good. You can see how he makes good plays.”

Karlsson’s level of play visibly sparked the rest of the team and led to a well-deserved win. It’s a spark San Jose needs on a nightly basis – especially with a big game coming up on New Year’s Eve against the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames. With a shot at first place in the division within their reach, the Sharks have to get a boost from a variety of different places.

As Saturday’s game against the Oilers showed, having Karlsson back in the lineup is a boost unlike any other.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones aims to prove himself yet again this season


Sharks goalie Martin Jones aims to prove himself yet again this season

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks went 39-1 last season when allowing two goals or fewer. Scoring rarely was an issue for them, which meant many games were decided on their play without the puck.
“We scored a lot of goals, but unlike other years, where we relied on being tight defensively, those goals came at the expense of being a little looser defensively,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer recently said at training camp. “And they were getting different looks.”
Criticism of goals allowed thickened during the final stretch of the regular season, and fingers were pointed in two distinct places: Team defense and goaltending.
“I’m sure [Martin] Jones is the first guy to say he wishes he played better at times," Sharks captain Logan Couture said of his goalie. "But there were a lot of times we didn’t help him out. We gave up too much."
The plot thickened in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, when Vegas took Games 2, 3 and 4 by scoring goals early and often. The Golden Knights looked unstoppable on the scoreboard.

In retrospect, Jones believes he tried to do too much.
“You want to go out and make a difference," he said. "But as a goalie, you need to have more patience and let the game come to you. You can’t race out and make 30 saves in the first period. You have to take what comes to you.“ 
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Sharks turned their Achilles heel into a strong point.
“Breakaways, odd-man rushes, tap-in goals -- he didn’t have a chance,” Couture said. "I don’t know how we did it, but we flipped a switch, and buckled down after that."
Added DeBoer: “I know the group around him takes some responsibility for the ups and downs of last year. To his credit, he found a way. He dug himself out of that place where he wasn’t feeling great about his game.”   

[RELATED: Four players Sharks are counting on to take step forward]
The final 16 playoff games should clearly indicate what Jones -- who posted a career-worst .896 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average in the regular season -- can do, especially in the most critical junctures. That must breed confidence in what the Sharks can accomplish this season, if they can support their goalie.
“I can tell you this,” DeBoer said confidently, “the group never wavered once, even at the lowest moments, about whether he could get the job done.”

Why these four Sharks have high chance of cracking NHL roster in camp

Why these four Sharks have high chance of cracking NHL roster in camp

SAN JOSE -- Since hosting their prospect development camp in July, the Sharks have boasted about the players who will challenge for a roster spot at training camp. 

Now that San Jose's preseason officially gets underway Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center, we have a better idea of who has the best shot of making the NHL lineup. Here are four players with a good chance of breaking camp with the Sharks. 

Mario Ferraro, D

The 21-year-old defenseman has skated alongside fellow prospect Ryan Merkley in training camp, but don't be surprised if he gets a look alongside one of San Jose's veterans soon -- or in a few regular-season games. 

Ferraro has been putting on a show since development camp in July. Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. went so far as to call him "one of the most high-energy guys you've ever seen. He does not have a bad day." 

Through both development camp and the start of the preseason, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst product -- who played college hockey alongside Colorado Avalanche blue liner Cale Makar -- has demonstrated a high level of physicality that could make his game very effective on the NHL mainstage. 

Plus, with Radim Simek still rehabbing, there's a chance Ferraro -- as well as familiar faces like Jacob Middleton and Nick DeSimone -- gets a look on the big club's blue line.

Antoine Bibeau, G

Some fans wondered if the San Jose Barracuda netminder would get a look with the Sharks last season when Aaron Dell had some hiccups backing up Martin Jones. After a promising 2018-19 campaign in the AHL, his chances of getting an NHL shot this season appear more likely.

Bibeau started two games with the Toronto Maple Leafs three seasons ago, going 1-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. While that isn't exactly a deep body of work, his AHL numbers in San Jose (.912 save percentage in two seasons) are enough to get the Sharks excited about his future with the organization.

Alex True, F

Like Bibeau, True was a player last season some thought would get a crack at the Sharks' roster. In his second campaign with the Barracuda, the 6-foot-5 Dane tallied 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) and was a plus-16 in 68 regular-season games. 

While True has most recently been lumped into a group of young roster hopefuls including Ivan Chekhovich, Sasha Chmelevski and Joachim Blichfeld, the 22-year-old appears to be the readiest to make the leap to the NHL. Those other three still have very promising futures with the Sharks, but our guess is they'll see more playing time with the Barracuda first.

The Sharks have spots to fill at forward and could greatly benefit from adding a big-bodied scorer to their bottom six. If True continues to have a good camp, he could get an NHL look in his third season with the organization. 

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

Jonny Brodzinski, F

Although not as recognizable of a name as some of the names coming out of the Barracuda, Brodzinksi likely will get a crack at the Sharks' roster ahead of some of the organization's top prospects. He's only on a one-year contract, and he has previous NHL experience,

Through three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, the 26-year-old Minnesota native scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) and a plus-6 rating over the course of 54 NHL games. He also tallied 108 total points in 156 games with the AHL's Ontario Reign. 

Given the aforementioned holes up front, playing a consistent AHL scorer like Brodzinski could make the most sense -- at least to start the season off. 

Tuesday night's preseason opener should prove instructive. Brodzinski has skated on Joe Thornton's wing in practice, and playing well there in an actual game setting should lift Brodzinski's chances of cracking the Sharks' opening-night lineup.