Sharks

How Erik Karlsson will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

How Erik Karlsson will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We conclude with defenseman Erik Karlsson. 

Excluding Erik Karlsson's rookie season, he scored at least twice as many goals in every other season of his career than he did last year.

That's right. Karlsson's three goals last season were a career-low, and seven-times fewer than his career-high. Granted, he was limited to 53 regular-season games due to injury, but when you consider his next-lowest total outside of his rookie year -- six goals in 2012-13 -- was tallied over just 17 games, it becomes increasingly obvious why Karlsson should be expected to find the back of the net more often in the season ahead.

Karlsson scored on 1.8 percent of his shots last season, by far the lowest shot percentage of his accomplished career. Prior to last season, he had never posted a shot percentage lower than the 4.5 percent of shots he scored on during his rookie season. Even with the extreme downturn last season, Karlsson has a career shot percentage of 6.4 percent, which suggests he was rather unlucky in his first season in San Jose.

Speaking of it being his first season, that's another reason why Karlsson can be counted on to provide more offense moving forward. He arrived via trade the day before training camp began, and it was readily apparent that it took some time to get acquainted with his new teammates and defensive partners. As soon as he did -- it took about two months -- the Sharks reeled off their best stretch of the entire year, winning 16 of 21 games from Dec. 2 to Jan. 15 -- a 133-point season-long pace. For reference, Tampa Bay posted the fourth-highest point total (128) in NHL history last year.

Karlsson injured his groin the next day, and aside from an appearance in the All-Star game -- didn't play for an entire month. He then returned for a six-game stretch in late February before sitting out the remainder of the regular season, minus the season finale. His groin reared its ugly head again the Western Conference final against St. Louis, limiting him severely at times and forcing him to miss Game 6, which proved to be the final game of the Sharks' season. 

Karlsson underwent groin surgery at the end of May, and recently said the injury "feels like it's back to normal." He has since signed a lucrative eight-year contract that will keep him in San Jose likely for the duration of his career. Some pundits were surprised he got the contract that he did, but assuming he's healthy, there's no question Karlsson is worth it.

Now entering his second season with the Sharks, some critical members from his first are nowhere to be found in the locker room. Pavelski, Nyquist and Donskoi departed in free agency, taking with them more than 20 percent of San Jose's goal total from last season, and some crucial playmakers at that. It will be a team effort to replace their production, but few if any players on the roster can inch close to Karlsson's talent level. He was already a fixture on the power play, and it would not be shocking whatsoever to see him take on an even larger role with the man-advantage, particularly with Pavelski now elsewhere.

[RELATED: Sharks name Couture captain one day before training camp]

Karlsson didn't fall off the map last season -- he was injured, plain and simple. Now healthy and with a year of familiarity under his belt, Karlsson is certainly capable of providing the Sharks with more of what they need -- goals.

Players who will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void in 2019-20

Timo Meier
Kevin Labanc
Top prospects

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Another night, another Sharks’ win.

San Jose certainly didn’t make things easy on itself against the Red Wings at SAP Center on Saturday night, and although the Sharks jumped out to an early lead, Detroit bounced back from two deficits and forced the contest into overtime. Kevin Labanc, though, played the hero with the lone marker in the shootout to clinch a 4-3 victory and extend Team Teal's winning streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's exciting win:

Jones comes up big

Martin Jones deserves credit for his solid play throughout the month of November, and San Jose's goaltender had another good start against Detroit. The Red Wings picked up speed over the course of the game and outshot the Sharks, but Jones was a steady presence throughout. Taro Hirose's second-period goal that tied the game 2-2 wasn't his fault and, frankly, he didn’t get much help from the defense when Andreas Athanasiou tied it up 3-3 late in the third period either.

One of Jones' best saves of the night actually came just before that Hirose goal when he made a huge kick save on Brandon Perlini that narrowly missed dribbling into the net. Although, to be fair, his blocker saves when San Jose went on the penalty kill in overtime were equally impressive.

If Jones continues making big saves like that on a nightly basis, the Sharks' fortunes will continue to turn for the better. 

Still in search of that four-line game 

The Sharks have been an improved even-strength team since the start of the month, but against the Red Wings, the forward attack didn't look as deep as it has on other nights. Labanc and Logan Couture did their fair share of the heavy lifting on the top line, as evidenced by Labanc's first-period goal and Couture's three assists on the evening. 

But other than that, San Jose's lines didn't generate much against a Red Wings team that doesn't have much forward depth itself. With two big divisional games coming up next week against the Oilers and the Golden Knights, the Sharks need more players to start producing on a regular basis. There's no way around it.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

On a positive note ...

Keep the big hits coming 

One of San Jose's top concerns heading into Saturday's game was being able to contain Detroit's speed. When the Wings did manage to break into the Sharks' defensive zone, San Jose did a good job of imposing its physicality and breaking up plays. Through the first two periods, the Sharks out-hit the Red Wings 10-5.

While San Jose still needs to work on taking more of the center of the ice away from the opposition, that's the kind of heavy game the Sharks must play regardless of how fast or physical the opponent is. If they can build off that performance, the wins will keep on coming.