P.K. Subban

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in annoying 2-1 road loss to Devils

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in annoying 2-1 road loss to Devils

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The New Jersey Devils entered Thursday's game against the Sharks at Prudential Center as one of only three teams in the league with fewer points than San Jose. That no longer is the case after New Jersey came from behind and held off the Sharks for a 2-1 win.

San Jose got on the board first and maintained that lead through the first half of the contest, but Jesper Bratt scored on a breakaway late in the second period to pull the Devils even, and P.K. Subban's power-play goal in the third proved to be the game-winner. The Sharks had an advantage in shots, scoring chances and high-danger chances, but New Jersey netminder Mackenzie Blackwood came up big when it mattered most.

Here are three takeaways from a loss that ends San Jose's road winning streak at four games.

Seizing the opportunity

Things started very well for the Sharks. They had good jump in the first period, and we're able to take the lead thanks to some unexpected contributors.

Just over seven minutes into the game, Alex True won a faceoff in the offensive zone and passed it back to Jake Middleton, who promptly slid it across the blue line to his defensive partner Tim Heed. Heed then threw an innocent-enough shot at the net, but thanks to plenty of traffic in front, it slid past Blackwood for the first goal of the night.

True made his NHL debut a couple of weeks ago. Thursday was Middleton's eighth career NHL game, and Heed has gone back and forth between the Sharks and the Barracuda in the AHL. Having the three of them combine for a goal was a promising sign, and the exact kind of silver lining San Jose should be focusing on throughout the remainder of a season that is not headed for the playoffs.

Bottom-dwellers

The fact that a fourth-line goal was arguably the Sharks' top highlight of the game should tell you everything you need to know about the level of competition involved. The Devils have been as active as any team as the league nears the trade deadline, and a combination of injuries to critical players and the recent trade of Brenden Dillon has similarly sapped San Jose's talent level.

The end result was a contest between two rosters that, frankly, should be at the bottom of the standings -- and are.

It would be tough for any team to overcome the injuries to Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson -- the latter two of which were season-ending -- but the Sharks can't exactly use the same youth-movement excuse as New Jersey. Entering Thursday, the Devils entire roster had appeared in a total of 5,648 NHL games. For comparison, San Jose's Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic had combined for 5,463.

Promising, but frustrating

You can't pin Thursday's loss on Martin Jones, but nonetheless, his inability to finish off what was a stellar start in net through 1.5 periods is somewhat frustrating.

He was left out to dry on Bratt's goal, and Subban's tally was the result of some truly terrible timing to reposition. It also would have helped if someone had cleared the screen directly blocking his vision. Prior to those faults, Jones had played great and came up with several big saves to keep his team in front. His stick save on the goal line in the second period was arguably his best save of the season.

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Sharks surely will be looking into ways to address their goaltending problem. The odds are against Jones playing elsewhere anytime soon, but it sure would have been nice if he had something better to show for what might be his final showcase opportunity before Monday's deadline.

How Erik Karlsson's first Sharks season compares to P.K. Subban, Predators

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AP/USATSI

How Erik Karlsson's first Sharks season compares to P.K. Subban, Predators

SAN JOSE – When the Sharks first acquired two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson ahead of their 2018-19 campaign, it was only natural to compare the move to another that took place just two years before: When the Nashville Predators traded for fellow Norris winner P.K. Subban.

Really, comparing the two trades was natural. Both cases involved elite defensemen leaving fumbling teams for squads with the potential to make deep playoff runs. 

With the Predators making their final trip of the regular season to San Jose this weekend, it’s only fitting to go back and re-evaluate those comparisons. Despite the differences in their playing styles and surroundings, Karlsson's first season in San Jose has far more in common with Subban's first in Nashville with new teams than anyone could have guessed.

You might recall the criticism Nashville endured when Subban didn’t instantly make his new team a Stanley Cup contender at the start of the 2016-17 campaign. Fans and critics wondered alike how adding an upper-echelon defenseman to an already-stacked blue line not result in immediate success. 

Yet the Predators lost seven of their first 10 contests that season despite Subban posting five points in that span, including a goal in his first game with the Preds. After stringing a couple of three-game winning streaks together in the month of November, however, Nashville finally started to figure things out. Subban’s work as a set-up man – particularly in the month of February – helped the Predators win a lot more games.

Flash forward to November 2018. Karlsson had been a member of the Sharks for over a month, but he hadn’t found the back of the net and the team as a whole hadn’t quite figured out its identity yet.

The same question arose – how could adding a player like Erik Karlsson to a blue line led by Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic not be producing ridiculous results? But like Subban in Nashville, Karlsson eventually became more comfortable with his new squad.

Really comfortable, even. He eventually scored at least one point in 14 consecutive games, as San Jose started to rack up more wins, many of which resulted from him setting up teammates. Karlsson arguably could have started another streak had he not been sidelined with a lower-body injury in mid-January.

The comparisons extend beyond their play on the ice to the injuries that kept them off of it. Subban was also out of the lineup his first season with his new team. He sustained an upper-body injury that took him out of the Predators’ lineup for 16 games. The Sharks know what that’s like, as Karlsson has now missed 17 of the last 22 games. He isn't the only defenseman to miss time this season, let alone right now, as the Sharks have used nine defensemen this season. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans honor Mike Hoffman ... who was on team for three hours]

This now leads us to where these teams differ. At this this point of the Predators’ 2017 campaign, Subban and the streaky Predators were fighting for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Many believed their playoff run would end prematurely at the hands of the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but the Predators ultimately advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. 

This year’s Sharks are, as far as we know, in a different boat. With less than 11 games left in the season, San Jose is battling to remain the top seed in the Pacific Division and the West. They’re also a heavy favorite to make a deep playoff run. As for Karlsson, the superstar defenseman is still working his way back to being healthy enough to lead a deep playoff run.

Of course, the comparisons between Subban and Karlsson’s first seasons only go so far. They are both outstanding defensemen who joined two incredibly strong hockey teams, after all.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying the similarities between the two make the potential of San Jose’s current push for the playoffs, and Karlsson’s eventual return to the lineup, even more exciting for Sharks fans.

Erik Karlsson, Sharks can learn from P.K. Subban's first Predators season

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AP

Erik Karlsson, Sharks can learn from P.K. Subban's first Predators season

The Sharks are in a position that’s familiar to the Nashville Predators.

San Jose is 9-6-3 in 18 games after acquiring two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster trade. Two years ago, Nashville was 8-7-3 in 18 games after acquiring Norris winner P.K. Subban in a blockbuster trade. 

The parallels are obvious. They’re both right-handed, puck-moving defensemen with accomplished resumes who switched conferences. 

But the circumstances -- and the players themselves -- are not identical.

The Sharks acquired Karlsson on the eve of training camp, while the Predators landed Subban before the start of free agency two summers ago. Subban largely filled the role of the defenseman he was traded for (Shea Weber), while Karlsson’s arrival rearranged a depth chart that featured another Norris Trophy winner in Brent Burns. 

[RELATED: Where Sharks stand in Pacific]

What might be the biggest difference, however, is that Karlsson isn’t off to the same offensive start that Subban was.

Subban came out of the gates firing. He scored on his first shot on goal -- and second attempt -- with the Predators. In his first 18 games, Subban scored 13 points, including seven on the power play. 

Karlsson, meanwhile, still is searching for his first goal with the Sharks. He picked up seven assists in his first 11 games, but he was held off the scoresheet in each of his last seven games. That’s not for a lack of trying, though. 

In his first 18 games with the Sharks, Karlsson fired 52 pucks on net. Subban, meanwhile, had 42 shots through his first 18 games. Five-on-five, Karlsson actually is shooting at a higher rate at this point with the Sharks than Subban was with the Predators.

5v5 stats, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
  Karlsson (2018-19) Subban (2016-17)
Shots/60 7.1 4.55
CF/60 19.12 8.56
FF/60 11.11 6.19
SCF/60 3.46 1.28
HDCF/60 0.18 0.36

What’s been the biggest difference in their respective starts? Individual finishing. 

Subban scored on 8 percent of his five-on-five shots in his first 18 games with the Predators, while his teammates scored on 3.9 percent of theirs with him on the ice. Karlsson, so far, has the opposite problem. He didn’t score on any of his 39 five-on-five shots, and his teammates scored on 8.2 percent of theirs. 

Finishing made the difference on the power play, too. Although Karlsson didn’t shoot nearly as much as Subban on the man advantage through 18 games, he wasn’t as lucky, either. Subban scored on two of his 14 shots, while Karlsson scored on none of his eight. 

Subban and Karlsson's respective starts both show how volatile a small sample size can be. Karlsson scored on 6.8 percent of his shots in all situations entering this season, and already would have about three goals -- 3.6, to be exact, but we’ll round down -- if he converted at that rate. Subban, meanwhile, entered his first season in Nashville with a 5.8 percent career shooting percentage. Yet, he scored on 11.9 percent of his shots at the start of his Predators tenure. 

Ultimately, Subban finished the season shooting closer to what was his career average. He converted on 5.0 percent of his shots in his final 48 games, scoring as many goals (five) as he did in his first 18 appearances.

The best predictor of the rest of Subban’s first season in Nashville proved to be his own career. That doesn’t mean the same thing is guaranteed to happen to Karlsson in San Jose, but the Sharks surely wouldn’t mind to see it turn out that way.