The San Jose Sharks started with reassigning three players to the AHL Monday, Nov. 9: Mark Cundari, Nikolay Goldobin and Bryan Lerg. With two forwards sent down and Ben Smith not ready to return, another forward had to be recalled.
Goldobin has played well enough to be dressed over any other depth forwards the Sharks tried in the first 14 games of the 2015-16 NHL season. Thus it was no surprise to learn that Melker Karlsson was called up to fill his spot for Tuesday’s game hosting the New York Islanders.
San Jose’s rookie of the year for the 2014-15 NHL season missed the preseason with an unspecified injury and had only started getting his game back in the AHL just over a week ago. Karlsson is likely still getting his game back and likely will have to learn a new role because Joonas Donskoi has been to productive with the Joes (the last captain Thornton and current captain Pavelski) to break up.
Still, Karlsson plays well on both ends of the ice rather than just one like Lerg or Goldobin. The Sharks are in desperate need of any improvements after going 4-7-0 without Logan Couture and 3-0-0 with him this 2015-16 NHL season, with players registering just 22 scores over that span excluding empty-net goals.
Moreover, the sooner Karlsson gets his legs the sooner he can offer needed secondary scoring. Both Pavelski and Joel Ward have scored seven times (including one empty-net goal each) during Couture’s absence while their teammates have combined for 11 (also including one empty-net goal).
If it is going to take Karlsson a little time to get his rhythm, why not get it started sooner? San Jose will be without Couture for at least a couple more games and needs more than two players lighting the lamp to play above .500 hockey.
It would be great if Karlsson helped right away: New York won with superior talent in the first matchup between these teams in October, 6-3. It opens its road trip having dropped two in a row to make its hold on the final Eastern Conference wild card tenuous.
The biggest mismatch for the Sharks is on special teams, and Karlsson is capable of contributing on both ends like Couture did. They sit near the bottom so far this 2015-16 NHL season in both power play and penalty kill, while the Islanders are strong on both.
Avoiding penalties and more efficient play when either team does have a power play is key. That starts with possession: San Jose is again one of the best faceoff teams on the 2015-16 NHL season and that facilitates its positive shot differential, while New York is only above average in both categories.
Perhaps the biggest key for the Sharks will be not giving up a goal before the first television timeout. That has now happened in five of the last six games and has given up a goal in the first 12 minutes in eight of 14 games so far this 2015-16 NHL season.
Expect this game to be lower scoring than the one in New York and may well be close enough to need overtime, but San Jose is more likely to come out on the losing end. The victory will simply be having Karlsson that much closer to helping the team endure the loss of Couture.