Sharks

Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

SAN JOSE – Apparently sick and tired of not having any success against Buffalo, the Sharks controlled much of Tuesday night’s game against the Sabres in a 4-1 win. Here are our three takeaways from the game, as San Jose has now won three of the first four games on its longest homestand of the season…

1 – The Sharks have pretty much clinched the division

The Sharks (42-20-7, 91 points) have opened up a mammoth nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division. Second place Calgary and Anaheim have 82 points apiece, tied for second place. Every team has 13 games remaining.

Even if the Sharks post just a .500 winning percentage the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 104 points. For the Flames or Ducks to catch them in that scenario, they would have to post a record along the lines of 11-1-1 over their final 13.

No one in the Sharks’ dressing room would say that the race is over, of course.

“We’re not taking anything for granted here, we want to keep winning hockey games,” Martin Jones said. “We’re trying to play for playoffs here. Just got to keep building our game.”

The Sharks are setting their sights on Chicago (93 points) and Minnesota (92 points) instead, assuring home ice advantage throughout the first three rounds.

Pete DeBoer said: “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, and that's winning as many games as possible, make sure we're playing the right way heading into the playoffs, and tracking down the teams ahead of us. There's no doubt [the division lead is] nice, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do."

San Jose has not won the Pacific Division since 2011. Anaheim has won it each of the last four seasons, while the Coyotes claimed it in 2012.

2 – Jones benefiting from extra rest

Perhaps no one on the Sharks’ roster, other than maybe captain Joe Pavelski, looks more rejuvenated coming out of the bye week than Jones. The Sharks’ number one netminder has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven starts, and made another 22 saves on Tuesday against Buffalo.

Jones has been getting more rest than usual even after the bye week, as Aaron Dell has started three of the last seven games and figures to get at least four or five more starts before the end of the regular season.

Jones’ biggest save on Tuesday came in the third period, when he sealed his five-hole on a Jack Eichel on a breakaway and Pavelski increased the Sharks’ lead to 3-1 just after that.

“He’s got a lot speed,” Jones said of the Sabres’ young forward. “Our guy was kind of flat-footed, [Eichel] took it to the net. He didn’t have a lot of time or space, so just tried to make sure there wasn’t any holes there.”

The Sharks didn't surrender many prime scoring chances on Jones, as the puck was in their offensive zone for the majority of the night.

“We were in and out of our end pretty quick,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We got in on the forecheck and turned some pucks over, sustained some pretty good O-zone time. The shot totals obviously speak for that.”

3 – Haley adds more than the game-winning goal

Micheal Haley clearly got lucky on his second period goal that put the Sharks up to stay, but he also offered some insight on his more notable role of keeping things honest out there.

In the game’s first minute, Buffalo’s Evander Kane hammered Justin Braun on the forecheck, shaking up the Sharks’ defenseman. Haley found himself on the ice with Kane a few shifts later, and decided to remind Kane that he was in the active lineup, too.

“I was just letting him know that there’s two sides to each team. I can start running people, too,” Haley said. “It was fine, it was nothing. It was just a big hit to start the game, and when I went on [the ice] he was there, so I thought we’d have a little chat.”

Did play calm down after that?

“I think so. I don’t know. I didn’t see anymore big ones,” Haley said.

A good reminder for the advanced stats-only crowd that the game isn’t played in a vacuum, eh?

While Erik Karlsson tries to fit in, Sharks just want him to be himself

While Erik Karlsson tries to fit in, Sharks just want him to be himself

SAN JOSE -- At his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon, new Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson drew an interesting parallel when he was asked about trying to fit into a new team, after being the leading man for so long. 

The Swede mentioned playing for his national team at best-on-best tournaments; first at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and then at the World Cup of Hockey two years later. 

“It was something that I always enjoyed,” Karlsson told reporters, “And I think that it challenged me to do things in a different way sometimes … I’m looking forward to that here as well.”

It’s not necessarily an outlandish comparison. The salary-capped Sharks aren’t as good as a Swedish national team that, if its latest World Cup iteration played in the NHL, would have been about $28 million over the current upper limit. But, Karlsson’s move from the 67-point Ottawa Senators to the 100-point Sharks in last week’s blockbuster trade represents a significant upgrade in the talent surrounding him.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner joins a defense corps featuring another Norris recipient (Brent Burns) and a shutdown defenseman with international pedigree of his own (Marc-Edouard Vlasic), on a team led by a Hart Trophy winner (Joe Thornton), the NHL’s sixth-leading scorer since 2013-14 (Joe Pavelski), and the fourth-best player by Corsica Hockey’s wins above replacement (WAR) model last season (Logan Couture). 

“We’re a good hockey team,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us. There’s a lot of good teams in the West, but I think [the Karlsson trade] puts us in position to have the ingredients to go compete with all the top teams.” 

Karlsson, then, just might be the active ingredient for a franchise still looking for its first Stanley Cup. He has two Norris Trophies to his name, four first-team All-Star appearances, and more points than any other defenseman since he entered the league. He led the Senators to within a double-overtime goal of the Stanley Cup Final just over a year ago, and scored more points than all but five defenders in a “down” year last season. 

If anything, Karlsson may have undersold his role on the Swedish national team when making the comparison. 

At the Sochi Olympics, Karlsson tied for the tournament lead with eight points, winning a silver medal. The Swedes weren’t as successful at the World Cup two years ago, but Karlsson still tied for the team lead in scoring. He also led his team in ice time in three out of four games, edging out the likes of Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman and Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson. 

The former ultimately won the Norris Trophy last season, while the latter will have the third-highest salary cap hit ($8.25 million) of any defenseman next season, when his eight-year contract extension kicks in.

In other words? “He’s one of the best players on the planet,” according to Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer, and not just because of his offensive ability. 

“We can use him in every situation,” DeBoer said Wednesday of his newest defenseman, adding that Karlsson was one of “very few players in the world that you could use in the last minute of games when you’re up to shut down the other team’s best players, or use to create offense when you’re behind.”

Karlsson sounded very aware of the situation he’s joining in San Jose. He knows he’s coming to a team that’s “been together for a long time that has good chemistry,” and he said it’s on him to find a way to fit in by doing whatever is asked of him. 

DeBoer indicated he will simply ask the four-time, first-team All-Star to be himself. 

“I don’t think there’s any adjustment,” DeBoer said. “We play up-tempo. We play aggressive. We play the way he plays.

“He’s gonna fit right in.”

The pre-trade meeting that made Erik Karlsson excited about Sharks

The pre-trade meeting that made Erik Karlsson excited about Sharks

SAN JOSE -- Sharks general manager Doug Wilson was in Ottawa last week to meet with defenseman Erik Karlsson before acquiring him in a blockbuster trade with the Senators. It turns out head coach Peter DeBoer met with Karlsson, too. 

DeBoer, alongside Wilson, met the two-time Norris Trophy winner and his wife, Melinda, in Toronto “maybe a day” before the trade was finalized, he told reporters Wednesday after the day’s first practice session of training camp. The purpose, DeBoer said, was to give Karlsson a a sense of what the Sharks had to offer. 

“It’s a huge investment for the organization,” DeBoer said Wednesday morning. “It’s a huge investment from him and his wife to commit to coming out here and playing here. It was a great information session, and I think we all walked out of there really impressed with the player and the person.”

It’s fair to say Karlsson came away impressed, too.

“I think from that day on, both of our views kind of matched up, and I was extremely excited about everything they had to say,” Karlsson told reporters at his introductory press conference Wednesday. “They were great people right from the start.”

“And they’re still great people,” he added with a laugh. 

After the meeting, the Sharks sealed the deal last Thursday. They acquired Karlsson in a deal that sent two roster players, two prospects, two draft picks, and two more conditional picks to the Senators. 

Before the deal was completed, the Senators gave the Sharks permission to meet with Karlsson, Wilson said Wednesday after the press conference. Karlsson and his wife also spoke with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner several times, Wilson first told reporters Saturday. 

Wilson credited Plattner with giving him and the front office the ability to take go after “difference-makers” like Karlsson, and Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares, whom the Sharks met with ahead of the start of free agency. 

Plattner was in the room when San Jose pitched Tavares at the CAA offices in July, and Wilson said previously that the owner keeps up-to-date with just about everything the team does, even down to the recent rookie tournament in Las Vegas. Karlsson said Wednesday that Plattner’s knowledge stood out. 

“Speaking with [Plattner] was very reassuring,” Karlsson said. “He knew what he was talking about, and he was a very well-spoken man. Hopefully, I get to meet him soon.”

Meeting the owner, head coach, and general manager ultimately made Karlsson comfortable with coming to San Jose, and vice versa. Although Wilson said he would not discuss contract negotiations, he reiterated Wednesday he felt “very comfortable” about locking up the 28-year-old to a long-term extension. 

Karlsson declined to discuss a possible extension as well, keeping the focus of his introductory press conference largely on the upcoming season. But, he said he was grateful that Plattner, Wilson, and DeBoer made the trade “as smooth as it possibly could’ve been.”

“[My wife and I] are extremely happy and excited to be finally here, soak it all in, and start our new adventure," Karlsson said.