When your best offensive players are defending hard, you’re going to win some games.
That’s what the San Jose Sharks showed once again on Saturday night in their 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars.
Erik Karlsson is tied for third among all NHL defensemen with eight goals. He leads Sharks blueliners with 18 points.
“From what I see this year, he’s back. He’s playing the same way as I’ve always remembered,” winning goalie James Reimer, who stopped 34 of 35 shots, said. “He sees the ice so well. His first step is incredible. His vision, his shot. He’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Karlsson scored the game-winner last night, and has five goals and five assists in his last 10 games.
Timo Meier is 10th in the league with a 1.22 Points Per Game average. He leads San Jose with 28 points.
The Swiss winger hasn’t scored a goal in six games, but has six assists in that time, including two primary assists last night.
But we were talking about defense.
Karlsson (65) fires it off Tanner Kero (64). Denis Gurianov (34) springs Guro for a potential breakaway. Karlsson, in theory, should be flat-footed.
But Karlsson tracks back hard to catch Kero and forces a Dallas offside.
Boughner suggested that Karlsson, who’s played through a variety of injuries over the last three years in teal, is healthier and more engaged than ever.
“When he feels good about his game, and like I said, it is the best I’ve seen him play defensively as well, he’s working to get up on gaps,” Boughner pointed out. “It’s cut a lot of time and space off for the other team. We call it surfing when you come across and you’re grabbing their high guy. [Karly] is right there within a stick length.
“Last year at times, he was more spread out, and therefore, we didn’t have a good gap. We received a lot more than this year. I think we’re squeezing [up ice] more and he’s a big part of that. He’s bought in and he’s playing aggressive. He’s played aggressive in all three zones.”
That’s basically what Boughner said about Meier recently.
“He’s bought into knowing that he needs to be a 200-foot player, that’s going to give him success on the offensive side of things,” Boughner noted three weeks ago.
Meier (28) turns it over in the neutral zone to Andrej Sekera (5), but singlehandedly stifles the Stars counterattack with his hustle and stick.
The winger’s defensive commitment allows his linemates up the ice to get back on defense.
“The better he plays defensively,” Boughner said, “the less he’s going to be in his own end.”
We can see examples of that from Karlsson and Meier last night.
The Meier clip is especially illustrative: Meier’s puck pursuit forces Sekera into a turnover, earning Jonah Gadjovich (42) and Meier chances.
For his part, Karlsson credits the entire team’s commitment to defense for his personal renaissance.
“Yeah, maybe a little bit,” Karlsson offered when asked if he’s defending better this year. But he stressed: “I think it’s the team as a whole, I think everybody’s doing a good job and making good reads in the defensive zone. Really working hard at it, which makes it easier, easier to read out there for everyone, not only for me.
“We feel confident in the way that we’re defending this year.”
You can see that confidence in the stats: Last year, leading after two periods, the San Jose Sharks were 29th in the NHL with a .688 Win % (11-1-4).
So far this season, leading after two periods? They’re a perfect 10-0-0 after last night.
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