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Quick Bites: Swede, Swede Victory

Where Erik Karlsson dominates, the team will follow.

Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks battles for the puck against Jake Middleton #5 of the Minnesota Wild at SAP Center on December 22, 2022 in San Jose, California. Photo by Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images

It was yet another eventful night at SAP Center. The Minnesota Wild came into last night’s game on the second-half of a back-to-back and had been one of the hottest teams in the league as of late with a six-game win streak, but the San Jose Sharks snapped it ahead of the holiday break. Wild forward Mason Shaw’s reputation with San Jose’s faithful started low enough entering this contest, but his ejection midway through the game left him mired in even more controversy.

This game had physicality, speed, but most importantly — another superstar performance from Erik Karlsson. We continue to witness history with his incredible play this season. Entering the holiday break, Karlsson is still on pace for over 100 points as a defenseman. Be prepared to read his name several times below.

Offensive woes resolved?

One of our questions for the game was whether the Sharks, especially with Hertl out of the line-up, could muster up more offense than the team has been lately. Hockey is a team game, but last night, Karlsson showed how much an individual can utterly dominate and put the team on his back.

Evoking, then rewriting, Tuesday’s first-minute collapse against Calgary, Karlsson blasted a shot past Filip Gustavsson just 44 seconds in. Skilled puck control by Timo Meier and Alexander Barabanov on the opening shift gave space for Jaycob Megna to thread the needle across the zone, allowing Karlsson to bury it at the left wing. This goal set the tone for San Jose, and was the first of four points for Karlsson.

The Sharks generated several 5-on-5 opportunities with tight neutral-zone play, forcing turnovers while the Wild were in transition, and capitalizing on the extra room with some good passing.

San Jose’s second goal came on a dominant shift by Karlsson. A beautiful set up by the Norris-hopeful for Steven Lorentz was stopped on the wraparound, but the Sharks retrieved the puck and fed Karlsson for a one-timer, on which Gregor fired in a rebound.

The power play looked dangerous at times. At a key moment in the game, Meier scored what would be the eventual game-winner during the major penalty taken by Mason Shaw. Another primary assist by Karlsson, an excellent screen by Couture and good puck retrieval by Nick Bonino leading up to the goal showed what a five-man unit working together can accomplish.

Arguably the most important goal came when Oskar Lindblom scored the Free Tacos goal to make it 4-1 near the end of the second. Coming just as another power play expired, an absolutely gorgeous passing clinic by Meier and Karlsson seemed to put the cherry on top for an already amazing performance for both superstars:

Defense and Goaltending

James Reimer rebounded well following an inconsistent performance against the Flames, making a difference several times when Minnesota could have easily taken control of the game. It didn’t seem like it would happen right away, though. For the first shot he faced, Minnesota’s Eriksson-Ek received a beautiful flip from Jon Merrill for a clear breakaway, tucking it past Reimer. I can endlessly commend Reimer for his professional mindset. Another goaltender could have easily folded, especially after giving up the first shot yet again, but Reimer stood his ground.

During a Minnesota power play, forward Matt Boldy took a dangerous-looking backhander on a strong drive to the center, but Reimer fought it off. The Sharks then killed an important 5-on-3 off for 58 seconds.

Then on another penalty kill, Reimer made a beautiful glove stop on Minnesota’s most dangerous scorer, Kirill Kaprizov.

Ryan Reaves factor and physicality

Although Reaves himself didn’t drop the gloves, this game felt especially spirited with post-whistle scrums, big hits, and the ugly knee-on-knee hit by Mason Shaw.

There was another big hit on Matt Nieto which was worrisome, given that he missed time from a big hit by Rasmus Dahlin earlier this season. Megna stepped in to fight Matt Dumba on the ensuing skirmish, and Nieto seemed to be all right after the collision.

Shaw has been suspended two games by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for his reckless hit on Evgeny Svechnikov, who was thankfully able to begin the third period on the bench with the team, but was to be evaluated by team medical staff after the game. Notably for Shaw, this is the second time he has injured a Sharks player this season; his hit to the head of Radim Simek on Nov. 13 left the defender out for several games.

San Jose got the last laugh, however. The team has now defeated Minnesota twice in as many games. Their next and final match up of the regular season will come on March 11 at the Tank. San Jose’s next game will be on Dec. 27 in Vancouver, featuring Hertl’s return from suspension.