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.”

Why Sharks firing coach Peter DeBoer doesn't solve all their problems


Why Sharks firing coach Peter DeBoer doesn't solve all their problems

SAN JOSE -- It was time for a shakeup, there’s no question about it. And when things go sideways, the head coach typically takes the bulk of the blame.

But, the Sharks still have a lot of work to do.

So while those calling for Peter DeBoer to be out of a job have gotten their wish, it needs to be understood that his firing isn’t the beginning nor the end of San Jose's problems.

Don't get me wrong. The first stretch of the Sharks' 2019-20 campaign has been downright rough. They lost the first four games of their season and, despite having plenty of talent in the lineup, have struggled mightily to dig out of the hole they are in. Even during the six-game winning streak, those games weren't always pretty.  

And through that stretch of wins, there were issues that San Jose needed to address, whether it was goaltending or lack of offensive depth or the penalty kill getting overworked.

Long story short: This isn’t just about coaching. Honestly, the Sharks might still lose a lot of games.

Please remember -- DeBoer took the Sharks to the Western Conference finals last season with Martin Jones and Aaron Dell posting save percentages under .900. And he took the team to a Stanley Cup Final in 2016 after beating two stacked teams in the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. This isn't the story of someone who can't coach a Cup-contending team.

So, what's the issue?

Even before DeBoer's firing, the Sharks have been in a team in flux. After the first four defeats, DeBoer had his own list of complaints as to how the team was playing defensively. And offensively. Quite frankly, he wasn't happy with how the team played as a whole during the winning streak in November.

Whatever the core reason is for San Jose's woes, something still has to change now that DeBoer is out the door. After nearly erasing their October deficit with a phenomenal record in November, San Jose has gone 0-4-1 so far in December, a slide that has dropped the team five points out of a playoff spot.

[RELATED: Sharks scuffling due to bad combo of scoring, penalties]

December is a weird month to try to right the ship. The Sharks a homestand coming up, but with two long breaks shoved in the middle. They have a three-day layover ahead of a back-to-back with St. Louis and Vegas and then another a few days later with the Kings and Flyers.

The Sharks absolutely could go on a run before the new year. Just don't expect the coaching change to solve all of their problems. 

Sharks fire Peter DeBoer, hire Bob Boughner as interim head coach


Sharks fire Peter DeBoer, hire Bob Boughner as interim head coach

In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Sharks have decided to make a coaching change.

San Jose announced Wednesday that the team has parted ways with head coach Peter DeBoer. Assistant coach Bob Boughner will take over as the interim head coach. Also joining the Sharks' coaching staff are associate coach Roy Sommer, assistant coach Mike Ricci and goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the news.

The Sharks currently own a disappointing a 15-16-2 record, and are coming off a recent four-game road trip where they went 0-3-1. They currently sit in sixth place in the Pacific Division.

"When you have had a level of past success, change is never easy, but we feel this team is capable of much more than we have shown thus far and that a new voice is needed," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a team statement. "As a team and as individuals, our play has not met expectations this year and our level of consistency has not been where it needs to be. This group of individuals who will lead our team moving forward are very familiar with our players, and we think this change can provide our group with a fresh start."

In a related move, assistant coaches Dave Barr, Steve Spott and Johan Hedberg were relieved of their duties. 

"Under the leadership of Pete, along with Steve, Dave and Johan, our franchise accomplished some great things, culminating in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final," Wilson continued. "We want to thank them for their contributions to our organization's success over the last four years."

Boughner rejoined the Sharks as an assistant coach prior to the start of the current season, but recently served as head coach of the Panthers, leading Florida to a combined 80-62-22 record over the last two years. He originally joined San Jose's staff in 2015, and helped the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.

Sommer, most recently the head coach of the San Jose Barracuda, is the all-time leader in games coached and wins in the history of the American Hockey League, and has promoted more than 130 players to the NHL.

Nabokov played for the Sharks for 10 seasons and remains the franchise's all-time leader in almost every major statistical goaltending category, including games played (563), wins (293) and shutouts (50). For the past five seasons, he has served as a scout and goaltending development coach, where he has worked closely with the Barracuda, who have had a goalie named to the AHL All-Star Game in each of the last three years under his tutelage.

Ricci played in 529 games over six-plus seasons in San Jose and has spent the last 12 as a development coach within the organization.

[RELATED: Sharks scuffling due to bad combo of scoring, penalties]

DeBoer had one more year left on his contract worth $3M per season, according to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun. In four-plus years at the helm in San Jose, he led the Sharks to a 198-129-34 regular-season record and playoff appearances in each of the last four years.