Pete DeBoer called it “a man’s game.”
The San Jose Sharks head coach was speaking of the lack of time and space available to both sides in last night’s 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Leave it to Erik Karlsson (65) — riding a 13-straight game points streak — to take advantage of what little time and space there was.
As San Jose was changing forwards, Ilya Kovalchuk’s (17) dump-in, instead of going behind Martin Jones (31), took a strange hop to Jones.
Meanwhile, at the end of a minute-long shift, Anze Kopitar (11) lumbered off to change. Karlsson himself was finishing a minute-long shift. Jones left the puck by the net for Karlsson to claim.
Kopitar would’ve been LA’s F1, but Karlsson now owned all the time in the world to skate the puck up and wait for a fresh Tomas Hertl (48) to get open.
“I saw Karl on the puck,” explained Hertl. “I knew he would be looking for me.”
Hertl beat Jake Muzzin (6) three times on this play.
First, off the bench, Hertl, without the puck, threw a head fake as he was building speed by his own blueline. Muzzin, who was trying to match Hertl’s speed, bit.
Karlsson noted, “I just had to wait for him to break free a bit.”
Hertl’s head fake pulled Muzzin out of position. Aided by Karlsson delivering the pass in stride, Hertl now had the middle of the neutral zone as his personal runway. Anything less than a perfect pass would’ve allowed Muzzin to come back.
Karlsson noticed his teammate’s maneuver: “He picked a great route.”
The second time that Hertl beat Muzzin was near the top of the circles. Angled right by a recovering Muzzin, Hertl feinted as if he was going to cross over back to the middle. Muzzin bit hard once again, going for the poke check.
Hertl indicated, “At first, I tried to take it to the net, but the D came, so I just pulled it back in.”
Muzzin’s swing and miss put him another split second behind.
As Hertl approached goaltender Jack Campbell, the Czech pivot held the puck out on his backhand, just out of Muzzin’s long reach. Karlsson’s skill and Hertl’s cleverness had created just enough time and space for one specific shot.
This backhand would be, obviously, the third time that Hertl beat Muzzin.
“Not many times have I scored from this position,” Hertl beamed. “So it’s a pretty nice goal for me.”
As for Karlsson, he’s accumulated 21 assists and 22 points in his last 13 appearances. The Sharks have gone 10-3-2 over those 15 games, including Karlsson’s two-game suspension for his hit on Kings forward Austin Wagner.
Karlsson offered, “We’re starting to figure each other out.”
These are foreboding words for the rest of the NHL.