Erik Karlsson calmly skated to center ice at SAP Center in the eighth round of the shootout Monday night, the Sharks' game against the Minnesota Wild riding on one of his newer sticks.
Karlsson had scored two goals in the contest -- a 2-on-1 one-timer in the second period, a blistering blue-line slap shot in the third -- but he had broken his twig on the back of goaltender Martin Jones' net after the Wild tied the game with 10:12 remaining in regulation.
That frustration faded further and further into the background as Karlsson sauntered up the ice, approaching Wild netminder Cam Talbot with a series of simple stick-handling moves -- forehand, backhand, forehand, repeat. What happened next was even simpler.
A slap shot from in the slot. A goal. A 4-3 Sharks win.
"[It's] not always going to be perfect, but we ask a lot of him," Sharks coach Bob Boughner said of Karlsson and his role Monday in a video conference with reporters after the game. "A game like tonight is how he can make a difference in a game, and he can turn a whole game around with his skill."
Karlsson logged a team-high 25:07 of ice time, finishing the night with five shot attempts, three shots on goal, three scoring chances and two high-danger chances, per Natural Stat Trick.
Was that one of the best offensive games of his career?
"Not even close," Karlsson told a reporter, snacking on a postgame apple.
Karlsson holds himself, and is held to, a very high standard. Part of that is his contract, the richest and tied for the longest in Sharks history. Part of that is his own achievements, including two Norris Trophies and gutsy performances in the 2017 and 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs playing through significant injuries.
The 30-year-old hasn't met that standard in every game this season, and he is struggling at times in his own end. That included this game, when the Sharks were out-shot with him and partner Nikolai Knyzhov on the ice. He also was on the ice for two of the Wild's three goals Monday.
That certainly didn't diminish his confidence, as evidenced by the casual cranking of a slap shot with two points on the line and the even calmer consumption of an apple in his media availability. Karlsson made confident reads in regulation and overtime, too, reading off winger Evander Kane as he intercepted a Wild pass in the Sharks' own end on the defenseman's first goal.
By the time winger Timo Meier realized the Sharks were breaking out of the zone, Karlsson practically was in the neutral zone, ready for an odd-man rush with Kane.
"I think I'm gonna shoot it if I get it in positions where I can shoot it," Karlsson said. "I gotta shoot it a little bit more maybe sometimes, but today, the first goal is a 2-on-1. I know I'm getting the pass, I'm just positioning myself to get it when I get it. And the second one -- same thing, you know? There's no one really in front of me, I get a good pass from down low, and walk the line and have a good screen. If I keep getting in situations like that, I'm going to shoot the puck."
The Sharks aren't having a great March -- they're 7-7-2, which is "NHL .500" but still a losing record -- and they aren't having a great season, entering Monday with an 18.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Moneypuck. In all likelihood, they'll be picking in the top 10 -- if not higher -- of the draft.
Yet Karlsson has nine of his 13 points this season in March alone, albeit in 16 games. That's still well below his career clip, of course, but he's showing signs of life. Perhaps a normal offseason following this truncated campaign, a roster overhaul in an expansion draft year and the continued development of the Sharks' youth can bring the best out of Karlsson in a more normal season.
The Sharks surely didn't agree to pay Karlsson $11.5 million a year in anticipation of crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, yet the reality is they'll need some good fortune on their side as he plays out the remaining six years of his contract.
If the game is going to ride on Karlsson's stick on a nightly basis, at least he has plenty to choose from.
"Yeah, I'm lucky I get free sticks," Karlsson quipped of breaking one in the third period. "I think we deserved to win this game in regulation. I think Joner played another massive game for us and kept us in it early, and we just gotta tighten it up a little bit defensively. But it was definitely a nice win for us after the weekend that we had."