Sharks

Erik Karlsson at top of his game as Sharks host Senators in San Jose

Erik Karlsson at top of his game as Sharks host Senators in San Jose

SAN JOSE – It's perfectly understandable that Erik Karlsson likely wanted to put his first game against the Senators in the rearview mirror. All the emotion and the “the time is nigh” shenanigans no doubt turned the noise surrounding the December 1 match in Ottawa up to 11.

“Those kinds of things can weigh on your mind, even when they aren’t at the front of your mind,” teammate Evander Kane said on January 8. “I think it was a good thing for him to put behind him -- and he’s playing some great hockey.”

Kane isn’t kidding. It was after that loss to the Sens and a subsequent team meeting that things began to click – for the entire team, but especially for Karlsson.

Many may look at Karlsson’s recent body of work and his should-be incredible points streak if it weren't for a two-game suspension. Really, he’s been progressively playing a more dominant game since the beginning of December.

Now, the Sharks gear up to host the Senators as a much more dominant product than they were when the teams last met, and Karlsson's hot streak is helping to lead the charge.  

“He’s been a big piece to our success lately,” Joe Pavelski said after Karlsson was a key player in the Sharks' recent 7-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. “He’s been great. He’s really established his game in our structure.”

Karlsson has played in 17 contests since that highly-publicized return to Ottawa. Through the first 27 games this season, he registered 15 points (two goals, 13 assists). Through these last 17, he has logged 26 points (one goal, 25 assists), becoming just the fifth defenseman in NHL history to record at least one assist in 14 consecutive appearances as of San Jose’s win over Edmonton.

Through the first 27 games of the season, he registered a minus-11. Through the next 17 games, he’s at a plus-17 – second on the team only to his partner on the blueline, Brenden Dillon.

“He’s as good in our end as he is in the offensive zone,” Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott said of Karlsson’s two-way game. “He’s just a world-class player.”

[RELATED: NHL rumors: Erik Karlsson, Sharks will talk extension after All-Star Game]

One of the first indicators Karlsson had completely cemented himself as part of the Sharks’ all-around attack was when he was suspended for two games at the end of December for a hit on LA Kings’ forward Austin Wagner.

Sure, one player does not a team make. But it was clear among his return how much firepower he provides to the offense and how much speed he brings to the defense. Plus, the detailed plays he makes in the Sharks’ own end to set up scoring chances has given the entire forward assault a boost.

“Everybody feels pretty comfortable playing with him because he makes those plays and he makes that outlet pass and he’s got that speed to come out of our end with it,” Pavelski said after Karlsson tallied three assists against the Oilers.

Kane agreed: "You see the little plays that he makes, the plays with the puck – especially in the neutral zone,” he said. “It’s fun to play with.”

Not surprisingly, Karlsson himself is much more focused on how the team is playing and what he can do to contribute, than his own personal stats.

“As long as we win games and everybody’s contributing – whatever it is that you do out there,” he told the media after San Jose’s win over the LA Kings on Monday. "I think that’s been the mindset in here over the entire group. It doesn’t really matter who does it as long as someone does it and everybody does it together.”

San Jose as a collective unit has been doing just that over their current five-game winning streak. Since the start of the new year, the Sharks have strung together five wins in a row – and taken over second place in the Pacific Division with a big 3-2 victory over the Golden Knights on Thursday.

With the Senators making their one and only visit of the season to the South Bay this Saturday, it’s safe to say the Sharks are a different team than the one that played in Ottawa last month. Erik Karlsson, with his record-setting play, is clearly part of that winning formula.

“The way he’s playing, it’s helping us win,” Brenden Dillon said earlier in the week. “It’s amazing in this locker room, when you look around, some of the achievements that guys have. For him, we’re just really happy for him.”

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Well, the Sharks certainly made it interesting. Every time the Ducks scored a goal on Friday evening, the Sharks came back and were able to tie things up. They even got the game-tying goal late in the third period that took their contest into overtime – at least, before they lost 4-3.

Perhaps at a different time of year, getting their first point in five games would feel better. Not on this night. 

The focus remains on the work to be done with just seven games left in the regular season. For Team Teal, they need to clean their game up and get back into the win column.

“It’s better than nothing, but overall, we’re just not finding ways to win games now,” Timo Meier told the media in Anaheim regarding the single point. “We’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s an important time of the year. Playoffs are really close.”

San Jose put a better effort on the ice on Friday than they did the previous evening in LA against the Kings, but the opportunistic Ducks were able to bury more of their chances,

"I don’t think we gave them very much," Peter DeBoer said. "Every chance they got, they stuck in the net, though."

DeBoer was more critical of the team a second night in a row, and rightfully so. Despite outshooting the opposition, the Sharks weren’t able to find the back of the net enough times. They allowed two goals while playing on the penalty kill and tallied 14 giveaways. Plus, outside of Meier’s power-play marker, San Jose still went one-for-five on the man advantage. Despite tying the score up three times, the Sharks couldn’t keep the Ducks from responding.

Clearly, all areas of the game need to be tweaked.

“We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal,” DeBoer said. “We could’ve used a power-play goal tonight -- another one.”

Perhaps the only silver lining, as Meier put it, is that the Sharks are going through this stretch now instead of once they get into the playoffs. San Jose is still trying to get some of its key players healthy and into the lineup so they can make a deep playoff run with the lines and pairs they want. The goal, at least at the moment, is to make sure this five-game skid is a lesson to learn from and not a prelude to the future.

"Get stronger as a team, get tighter as a group, and learn," Meier said. "It’s going to make us stronger going into the playoffs because there are going to be lots of ups and downs coming up. It’s going to make us stronger and we’ve got to react the right way.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from overtime loss to Ducks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from overtime loss to Ducks

BOX SCORE

All the Sharks needed was a win. Just one win on Friday evening against the Ducks. Two points to salvage the road trip, stop the losing streak, and get back to hunting for first place in the division.

Not surprisingly, Team Teal made things interesting with a game that stayed tied up heading down the stretch. Unfortunately for San Jose, the Ducks were the victors in overtime 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s game:

How did the power play look?

In a few words: nonexistent until the third. San Jose had three opportunities on the man advantage through the first 40 minutes of play and couldn’t make anything happen. They even gave up a couple breaks the other way that Dell had to stop. Had the power play converted, the Sharks might’ve been up by two or three goals after two period of play.

Timo Meier came up big with the power-play goal in the third period to tie the score up 2-2. While they couldn’t capitalize on the power-play opportunity immediately followed, Meier’s marker will hopefully open up the flood gates for the power play.

Who else stepped up?

Sharks’ bench boss Peter DeBoer didn’t mince words after Thursday’s loss to the Kings, saying that the team needed someone to step up during this stretch with injured superstars and be a hero.

“You’ve got to get a great performance from somebody in a game like this and I don’t think we got that,” DeBoer said on Thursday.

In all honesty, the whole team looked better even with the loss. The fourth line had a couple very memorable shifts, cycling low and establishing pressure. Joe Thornton’s line was clicking, which was clear from Kevin Labanc’s goal.

Gustav Nyquist was a solo standout – despite not finding the back of the net, he played a heck of a game and had some incredible looks. Of course, you can’t talk about this game without talking about Justin Braun scoring the big game-tying goal in the third frame, which was his first marker since December 2.

How did Aaron Dell do?

In all fairness, Dell gave the Sharks a chance to win for the majority of the game. No. 30 has looked good in his last couple of outings – save his relief effort against the Golden Knights earlier in the week when he had little defense to help him out – and he made a couple great saves in Anaheim as well, especially when the Ducks had a couple short-handed breakaways.

Unfortunately for Dell, he gave up the two power-play goals in the third frame. While Braun was the hero and scored the tying goal late in the third to help take the game into overtime, Dell still couldn’t hold down the fort in overtime. It doesn’t matter if he’s the backup or not – at this time of the season, playing too loose late in games isn’t good.