The San Jose Sharks host the Tampa Bay Lightning on what should be a fun double-header Saturday in San Jose. The first of the year, it kicks off with puck drop scheduled for 1:30 p.m., while the San Jose Barracuda will host the Tucson Roadrunners at 4 p.m. The Sharks are coming off a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, where Erik Karlsson provided plenty of highlights including his game-winner that we can’t get enough of.
The Lightning are finishing up a road trip through California, losing 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 on Wednesday. After tomorrow’s game in San Jose, they’ll head home to start a four-game homestand.
Last season saw the Lightning make yet another Stanley Cup Final, but the threepeat was not to be, falling to the Colorado Avalanche in six games. More importantly, the loss capped off the hat trick of three straight Stanley Cup losses for Corey Perry, and as a Sharks fan that will never stop being hilarious. To be fair to Tampa, superstar Brayden Point was a corpse by the Final and the Avalanche were on a mission to finally win one with that particular roster.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Lightning acquired Nick Paul from the Ottawa Senators and Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks in an attempt to help reload for the cup run and to add to the team’s core.
This off-season was busy, as the Lightning looked to utilize every penny before hitting the salary cap. Tampa lost key free agents Ondrej Palat (New Jersey Devils) and Jan Rutta (Pittsburgh Penguins) and traded away defender Ryan McDonagh (and his $6.75 million cap hit) to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defender Philippe Myers and forward Grant Mismash. The Lightning worked around the fringes to add defenders Ian Cole and Haydn Fleury, and forward Vladislav Nemestnikov.
Then, Julien BriseBois really opened the wallet. Prior to free agency, he re-signed Nick Paul to a seven-year, $22 million contract after he put up five goals and four assists in playoffs. Next came locking up defender Mikhail Sergachev to an eight-year, $68 million deal that will end in 2031. The 24-year-old is off to a strong start with 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in eight games.
BriseBois inked Erik Cernak to an eight-year, $41.6 million contract, before head coach Jon Cooper stapled him former Norris winner, Victor Hedman, for the foreseeable future. Finally, Anthony Cirelli was extended with an eight-year, $50 million deal after the 25-year-old posted 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) last season.
Entering Saturday afternoon’s tilt, the Lightning are dealing with some injuries. Cirelli is out until Thanksgiving recovering from an AC joint sprain dating back to playoffs. Zach Bogosian is out with a separated shoulder and isn’t expected back until after the new year. Philippe Myers is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, but did play against the Ducks on Wednesday.
Nick Bonino is expected to draw back in after missing the last three games with an upper-body (Kevin Labanc-induced) injury.
Is this Erik Karlsson’s Team?
Like it or not, Karlsson is the engine of the Sharks right now. He leads the team in points (9) and is tied with Logan Couture and Nico Sturm for the lead in goals (4). The Sharks have earned three wins and Karlsson has scored the game-winner in all three, with two of them coming in overtime. After Brent Burns headed to the Carolina Hurricanes this off-season, all eyes are on Karlsson to be the offensive driver from the blueline.
The Sharks as a whole have scored 21 goals in 10 games. Karlsson has netted 9 points off those 21 goals. Sorry, let me repeat that: Erik Karlsson has 9 points on the team’s 21 goals. He is contributing on 43 percent of the Sharks' goals so far this season. It can’t be understated how important Karlsson is to the team's success this year.
It was nice to see Timo Meier finally get a goal and Logan Couture has been producing despite a revolving door of wingers playing next to him, but Karlsson is the player who sets everything up. He is the only defender right now who can reliably play offense.
When San Jose was down two goals to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, Karlsson played a five-minute shift to end the game in an attempt to climb back in. Karlsson will always be a polarizing figure to the fanbase, but what he is doing on this team needs to be admired.
Lightning off to a slow start?
The Lightning’s recent run of success has been centered around the team’s ability to score goals, and score a lot of them. Since the 2018-19 season, the Lightning have ranked first, first, first, seventh, and eighth in scoring. They’ve also played in the Conference Final or Stanley Cup Final in every year except for one and the time that they didn’t, it gave us one of the best tweets of all time. Pairing that offense with outstanding goaltending in Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a recipe for success that’s worked out well for Tampa Bay.
That’s a lot of hockey over the last four years, so a slow down is expected eventually. The regular season becomes less and less important for proven teams like the Lightning, as the focus is on being ready for the grind of playoffs.
But that slow down is hitting the offense and the team isn’t scoring at the rate that they’re accustomed to. The team is down about half a goal per game compared to last year, and are giving up about .35 more goals. There are some new pieces getting accustomed to the system, and while mainstays like Cirelli and Bogosian are out, certain players may be asked to do more than expected.
Again, it’s early in the season, but playing the Lightning now — compared to the end of the season when they will more than likely be a well-oiled scoring machine — is something the Sharks can and should take advantage of.
Charged up Reimer?
James Reimer is expected to start on Saturday and for the most part, he has historically struggled against Tampa Bay. In 24 games, he has posted a 7-11-4 record, .898 save percentage (SV%) and 3.24 goals-against average (GAA). Those numbers are well worse than his career counts of .913 SV% and 2.80 GAA.
Last year, in a 7-1 loss to the Lightning, Reimer was yanked after giving up four goals in less than 13 minutes. After replacing him, Adin Hill went on to play one more game the rest of the season, a 3-0 shutout of the Kings.
Reimer has had a great start to the season and is a reason that San Jose’s anemic offense isn’t getting blown out each game, but it’s time the team does Reimer a favor and gives him some run support. The Sharks have only scored three or more goals three times this season and they are going to need it for a Lightning team that still finished last year as the eighth-best scoring team in the league. Even struggling, that offense is no joke.
Bold Prediction: Afternoon games are always hard to judge, since neither team is used to playing early. Tomas Hertl scores and Karlsson adds another two points, to tip him over to a point per game on the season. The game is delayed for 20 minutes after Steven Stamkos scores a hat trick and the ice is littered with the retro lunchboxes giveaway. Lightning win, 5-2.