Sharks

Why Erik Karlsson's vision, deception stood out in first Sharks season

Why Erik Karlsson's vision, deception stood out in first Sharks season

Erik Karlsson's game was well-known to Jamie Baker when the Sharks acquired the defenseman last September. 

The Swede joined San Jose as a two-time Norris Trophy winner, with a reputation as one of the NHL's best blueliners. Baker knew of Karlsson's strengths, but two managed to surprise the Sharks broadcaster and NBC Sports California analyst as he had more chances to watch Karlsson up close rather than just twice a year. 

"Watching him every day, it was his vision," Baker said in a phone interview earlier this week. "And I knew he had great vision, but watching on television or only seeing him twice a year live doesn't give you the full spectrum of what he sees out there, and also how he's so deceptive.

"... He's got the puck and there's three options, and everybody's thinking it's going to be option one or two, and he allows you to go to option three, which could be somebody where you're like, 'how did he even see that guy, and then how did he even make the pass?'"

The Sharks bet big on those strengths Monday, signing Karlsson to an eight-year extension that made him the NHL's highest-paid defenseman and the owner of the richest contract in franchise history. Groin injuries limited Karlsson to 53 regular-season games last year, and hampered the 29-year-old during San Jose's run to the Western Conference final. In large part because of the attributes Baker mentioned, Karlsson tied with fellow defenseman Brent Burns as the Sharks' second-leading scorer during the Stanley Cup playoffs with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) despite playing hurt. 

The combination of Karlsson's vision and deception also set up San Jose's most memorable moment of the postseason. Karlsson assisted on Barclay Goodrow's Game 7 overtime-winning goal in San Jose's first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, bringing the puck into the offensive zone before hitting Goodrow in stride. 

Baker said there are "not many defensemen in the league who would make that play."

"When he entered the offensive zone just before he passed it, he shifted over to his right just a little bit and then he kind of made a straight up-ice pass to Barclay," Baker explained. "He would not have been able to make a pass that was slightly on an angle, even if it was 30 degrees because the [Vegas] defenseman would have poke-checked it. So, the only way that he could get that puck on Barclay's stick is if he shifted over, which he did at the exact moment. [Then he] makes the pass, and now you've got the D flat-footed who can't -- he's not taking away the passing lane, and ultimately Barclay had already got enough speed.

"That's the intangible right there. It's an innate ability that he has, of timing. It's what all the greats have."

Baker added that Joe Thornton shares a similar sense of timing, noting that the veteran center can "peek" and find open teammates seconds before the play develops. The Sharks didn't see it from Karlsson for the entirety of the regular season, after he started slowly and missed 27 games down the stretch. Still, he tied for ninth among defensemen in assists (42) in the regular season and tied for fourth among all skaters in the postseason (14). 

Karlsson told reporters Monday that he will be ready for the start of the 2019-20 season after undergoing offseason groin surgery. With a clean bill of health and a contract year no longer looming, it's reasonable to think Karlsson can start strong in his second season in teal.

[RELATED: Burns finishes second in Norris Trophy voting behind Giordano]

But Baker said how Karlsson starts next year won't depend on him alone. Assistant coach Bob Boughner will return to the Sharks' bench and worked with the team's blue line during his first stint in San Jose. Managing the ice time of Karlsson, Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be a new challenge for the Sharks assistant, but Baker said he thinks Karlsson "is going to absolutely love" working with Boughner.

"I think it just fits seamlessly because [Boughner has] known [Sharks coach] Pete DeBoer for so long," Baker said. "He's already been here in San Jose, so he knows a lot of the players. He knows the D. He's got a great balance of understanding the technical part, the tactical part of the game, but more importantly the human nature part of the game. ... What makes each guy tick. You can show him video all day long, but sometimes it may not be about the video, it's sitting down and talking to a guy about something."

Surging Sharks can't afford to lose 'tremendous' Tomas Hertl to injury

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AP

Surging Sharks can't afford to lose 'tremendous' Tomas Hertl to injury

The Sharks' game on Thursday was, without a doubt, the Tomas Hertl show.

Hertl has been playing at a high level throughout San Jose's current winning streak and added to that successful stretch Thursday by leading San Jose's offense with two goals against the Ducks. But then Hertl left the game in the third period after colliding with Anaheim forward Sam Steel and appearing to injure his leg. Hertl never returned to the game and was not available for comment following the Sharks' 5-3 victory.

Even after the postgame media scrum, there was no update on Hertl's status. But it's no secret that the Sharks, who are finally digging themselves out of their early-season hole, can't afford to lose him from their forward attack.

"He's playing tremendous," Logan Couture told reporters at Honda Center after the game. "You hate to say you get used to it because he's playing at such an elite level. But the way he's been playing over the last two years, he's been at that level. And he's getting better."

The captain isn't mistaken. Hertl really came into his own last season after head coach Peter DeBoer moved him to the center position, taking on more responsibility and becoming an irreplaceable force in San Jose's offensive arsenal. Now, after a slow start to the season, the Czech forward has come alive once again with goals in five straight games and is currently leading his team with 21 points. His performance through the first two periods of Thursday's game perfectly showcased the mix of physicality, goal-scoring prowess and relentless drive that makes him a power forward to be reckoned with. Not to mention, he plays well with a number of players on his wing, and the current combination with Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow has been one of the best lines -- if not the best -- the Sharks have put out on the ice since the start of November.

That's precisely why San Jose can't afford to lose him as the team climbs its way out of the Pacific Division basement.

An injured Hertl wouldn't just force DeBoer to shuffle up his lines, as he also plays an important role on San Jose's special teams, which have been one of the team's saving graces since the start of the season. There's no doubt that the Sharks would be missing a major puzzle piece if Hertl has to miss any games.

The Sharks have a packed schedule through the end of November with a mix of competition to face, from hosting the lowly Detroit Red Wings this upcoming Saturday to visiting the rival Vegas Golden Knights next Thursday. Given how San Jose's season began, there is no opponent on the horizon that the Sharks can look past.

[RELATED: Three questions from fans after Sharks' six-game homestand]

If the injury Hertl sustained Thursday causes him to miss time, San Jose's job becomes that much more difficult.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 win over division rival Ducks

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 win over division rival Ducks

BOX SCORE

It wasn't the prettiest or most dominant game the Sharks have played this season. But heck, a win is a win.

San Jose spent a good chunk of Thursday's game trailing the Ducks on the scoreboard. But thanks to some late-game magic from the special teams, Team Teal was able to extend its winning streak to five games with a 5-3 victory over the SoCal rival.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's game in Anaheim.

Stay strong, special teams

In all honesty, the Sharks didn't look like they had the upper hand for the majority of the game. But during a short span in the third period, San Jose completely took over the game thanks to a power-play goal from Brent Burns and a short-handed goal from Evander Kane within less than three minutes of each other.

San Jose's special teams have been one of the few bright spots through the slow start to the season. When facing an opposing goaltender that is on top of his game -- like John Gibson was for Anaheim on Thursday -- being able to score on both the man advantage and the penalty kill is huge.

Hertl power 

While three of the Sharks' four forward lines generated very little offense against the Ducks, Tomas Hertl and his linemates, Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow, were on fire. Hertl had quite a night with two goals in the first 40 minutes, extending his goal-scoring streak to a career-best five games.

Hertl, Meier and Goodrow also accounted for the majority of San Jose's shots on goal within the first two periods. Although the rest of the offense began to come alive in the third, the Sharks still need to get to a point where all four lines play up to the level that the Hertl's played at against the Ducks.

Not-so-strong second 

Too often this season, the Sharks have followed up a strong first period with a sluggish second. Such was the case on Tuesday night, as San Jose grinded in the first period but came out in the second stanza flat-footed.

To make matters worse, the Sharks couldn't stay out of the penalty box in that period, which allowed Anaheim's dismal power play to find the back of the net. While the Sharks were able to tie the game back up before the period expired, they can't keep undoing all their hard work.