The San Jose Sharks have had a mixed bag of results through their first five games. Yet to win a game in regulation, the Sharks find themselves 2-3-0 with two shootout wins.
Similarly, the top of the Sharks’ payroll has mixed results in his 2020-21 season. Erik Karlsson, in his third year for San Jose, is the healthiest he has been since his trade to the organization. His play has improved in nearly every game this season.
The Downsides to Karlsson
Since joining the Sharks, defensive play has been his issue. This makes him such a polarizing player; for his success as an offensive force, but incredibly unreliable defensively.
This could partially be attributed to his injury history and lack of his incredible speed he used to possess. As seen in the video above, Karlsson seemed to have good space between Jordan Kyrou and himself. However, the St. Louis Blues forward is able to speed past Karlsson with ease, which eventually led to a goal against.
Seen here, Karlsson’s struggle is positioning. In the dying seconds of the season opener, he is unable to establish any positioning on Kessel who ties the game. This is just a glimpse at how Karlsson struggles at times defensively.
Is It All Karlsson’s Fault?
Karlsson plays with Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the second pairing. Vlasic, 33, has seen regression in his play the last two seasons, after over a decade as an incredible defensive player.
Although there is not a large enough sample size this season, historically Karlsson has performed better without Vlasic. This is most easily seen in 2018-19 when Karlsson was mainly paired with Brenden Dillon — they complemented each other well and Dillon had a career season.
Vlasic has never added much offensively, and when paired with struggling defensive play, he doesn’t add much. Karlsson’s struggles could be attributed to not having a solid defense partner, because he flourished with the Sharks when he did in 2018-19.
Karlsson’s Recent Success
Offensively, Karlsson has looked near the level he used to be when he won the Norris Trophy twice. In transition, he has excelled in breakout passes, and even began using his speed to enter the offensive zone himself at even strength.
In the last two games, his speed has been exceptional. He has joined in on rushes at right times, but does get caught out of position as a result occasionally. As always, his playmaking and vision are a strong suit, and he has utilized it throughout the season.
Karlsson has two assists in the first five games this season. His recent burst of speed and ability to control scoring chances for and against must continue for the Sharks to succeed this season.
Setting Karlsson Up for Success
In his second season of an eight-year contract worth $92 million, the Sharks are banking on Karlsson’s success. However, the team is not putting him in ideal spots to do so.
With an injury-riddled career, one would expect the team to play him somewhat sparingly. However, the Swedish defenseman leads the league in ice time per game, averaging 28:43 minutes per game, although this could be attributed to the two full overtimes the Sharks have already played.
Vlasic adds little to support Karlsson offensively, and is a shell of his former self defensively. If Karlsson could be paired with the team’s current best left-handed defenseman, Mario Ferraro, they could bank on him being a sensational player on a nightly basis.
The Sharks are committed to the former Norris Trophy winner for seven more seasons. His recent dominance must be a sign of things to come for San Jose to succeed currently and in the future.
Josh is a young writer from the Bay Area, who now studies journalism at San Diego State University. In addition to covering the Sharks and Gulls for THW, Josh is a crossover scout at FCHockey and covers his school’s hockey team at TheDailyAztec. When not obsessing over hockey, Josh loves blasting music with friends, theatre, and playing with his dog. Follow Josh on Twitter for his latest takes on the Sharks, Gulls, and NHL Draft!