Two defensive plays stood out to me, as the San Jose Sharks held on for dear life to a one-goal lead in the dying minutes of last night’s 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars.
They came from two perhaps surprising Sharks.
Jake Oettinger out of the net and the Stars with the extra man, Erik Karlsson (65) has no hesitation when Jason Robertson (21) receives the high-low pass from Colin Miller (6). Robertson looks surprised by Karlsson’s explosion.
Nico Sturm (7) does a good job, by the way, rotating to the slot area that Karlsson has vacated and fronting Tyler Seguin (91).
For Karlsson, who scored four points last night to add to his defensemen-leading 62, it’s an example of his underrated defense.
I’m not trying to tell you that Karlsson is a great defensive defenseman. He’s not. But there are situations, like when he can use his speed to his advantage here, where Karlsson is a very effective defender.
It’s funny that it’s Peter DeBoer behind the bench for the Stars right now. DeBoer, of course, coached the San Jose Sharks when Karlsson was acquired in Sept. 2018.
“I saw this level of play,” DeBoer said of Karlsson’s spectacular season, “when he first got here, a little bit through our run to the Conference Final.”
DeBoer was referring to the December-January stretch during that 2018-19 season when Karlsson racked up 28 points in 19 games and the Sharks went 15-3-1. Then, Karlsson suffered a groin injury that would hamper him the rest of the season and eventually sideline him in the Conference Final.
“There were injuries and things that kind of sidetracked him during my tenure,” DeBoer noted.
Karlsson’s explosion on Robertson reminded me of how the two-time Norris Trophy winner was defending during that dominating 2018-19 stretch. I thought he was the best player in the world at that time, not just because of his offensive production, but how he defended the likes of Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov, which I wrote about at Fear the Fin.
I don’t think Karlsson is defending consistently at this level right now – I chalk that up due to age and injuries, that he can’t summon that explosion as easily as he used to – but it’s there enough these days that I would not call him a bad defender either.
There are things that the 6-foot-0 blueliner is good at defensively, things that he’s bad at, which I wrote about last week.
“I know the points look the way they do and that’s what he always does, but just go watch what happened on that 6-on-5,” Karlsson’s current head coach David Quinn said. “He was determined to make sure that we weren’t going to give up a goal, the way he defended and how hard he competed.”
Karlsson offered: “You just have to be a little bit more aggressive when they’re on the perimeter, not having full control of the puck. We’re not giving them easy plays, waiting for that opportunity to shoot it when they want to.”
The other defensive play that I loved at 5-on-6 was by Mikey Eyssimont, who took out Miro Heiskanen (4) to set up the Logan Couture (39) empty-net goal.
“He did a helluva job creating it, winning that battle on the blueline,” Quinn noted.
From waiver claim to first line to closing games, Eyssimont has been a revelation through five games with the San Jose Sharks.
“He’s earned it,” Quinn said. “You gotta judge people by what you see.”
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