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.
A thing of beauty 😍 pic.twitter.com/tz5981AXxu— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) December 29, 2018
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.
Karlsson x Karlsson pic.twitter.com/654qC6vQuI— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) December 29, 2018
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.