The San Jose Sharks (11-19-7, seventh Pacific) will end the year by visiting the Dallas Stars (22-9-6, first Central). The last time the Sharks visited Dallas on Nov. 11, the team scored five goals on 18 shots in Jake Oettinger’s first game back from injury, but this will forever be the game in which Logan Couture fought Jamie Benn.
The fight would cap off Couture’s first career Gordie Howe hat trick, after assisting on a goal from Alexander Barabnov in the first period and scoring his own early in the second.
That weekend felt like a turning point, as the Sharks won three straight games against the Stars, Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights, but it was ultimately a shooting star in a dark night that has been the 2022-23 campaign. Since the win in Vegas, San Jose has lost 14 of 19 games — including another collapse, this time coming against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, giving up two goals in the third and surrendering a goal to Tony DeAngelo in overtime after a bad change.
Approaching the midpoint of the season, the Stars have been one of the biggest surprises in the league. While many expected Dallas to be a playoff team, the team currently holds the best record in the Central Division and the second-best goal differential (+30) in the league. Leading the ascension has been forward Jason Robertson going nuclear this season, ranking fourth in goals with 24 and third in points with 52. The line of Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski has produced 29 goals this season at 5-on-5, leading the league.
Another huge piece of the Stars’ continued success has been Oettinger’s stellar play. He is currently posting a .920 save percentage (SV%), 2.38 goals against average (GAA) and 8.6 goals saved above expected (GSAx), ranking 10th in the league. Oettinger’s three-year, $12 million deal looks like a steal for a netminder who can single-handedly win a series, as the then-23-year-old almost did against the Calgary Flames last spring.
Sharks defender Matt Benning practiced with the team on Thursday, after blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, but did not suit up against the Flyers. Expect him to draw back into the line-up. Kevin Labanc took a massive hit from Joel Farabee late in Tuesday’s game and did not return. Head coach David Quinn did say that Labanc was fine after the game, but with nearly a week off after the weekend’s games, keep an eye on the winger’s availability.
Erik Karlsson, record holder?
After running the calculations, I can confirm that Erik Karlsson is good at hockey. The 32-year-old is about to tie the franchise record point streak, currently on 11 straight games with a point. He will tie Jonathan Cheechoo and Rob Gaudreau’s franchise record of 12 games on Saturday if he can contribute a point.
Technically, King Karl did play 14 consecutive games with a point during the 2018-19 Sharks season, but it officially doesn’t count, as he was suspended for two games in the middle of the “streak” for an illegal check to the head of the Los Angeles Kings’ Austin Wagner. So look for the tying point on Saturday and and a new record-holder on Sunday against the woeful Chicago Blackhawks.
Karlsson is casually on pace for 110 points after notching his 50th point on Tuesday. The NHL hasn’t seen a 100-point defenseman since Brian Leetch scored 102 in the 1991-92 season with the New York Rangers. Roman Josi did come close last season with 96 points. Karlsson is 34 points away from breaking Brent Burns’ franchise record for points in a season for a defenseman, with 45 games left. Karlsson could also become only the second player in franchise history to score 100 points, something that hasn’t been done since Jumbo Joe Thornton’s first full season in teal.
I’m not sure how many more times one can write about how special Erik Karlsson, so just watch this clip instead:
Can Sharks keep up with Stars offense?
Since Nov. 1, the Stars have scored 3.71 goals per game in 28 games, the third-best offense in the league. The Sharks are ninth in that time span with 3.42 goals per game in 26 games. While both teams have slowed a bit in December (3.14 for Dallas, 3.27 for San Jose), scoring hasn’t been a problem.
Dallas has been slightly better in limiting shots and goals against at 5-on-5, but the goaltending has been the deciding factor between these two teams. When things go catastrophic, Oettinger has been able to bail out the Stars, while the Sharks usually pay for those mistakes.
This is one of the few games where San Jose doesn’t have a huge special teams edge. The Sharks are looking to go perfect in December, having scored at least one power play goal in all eleven games this month, but the Stars hold the fourth-best penalty kill in the league, at 83.2 percent. If San Jose can cash in on the skater-advantage against this stingy PK unit, it will go a long way in grabbing two points.
On the flip side, Dallas’ power play is operating at 27.8 percent, fifth best in the NHL. San Jose’s penalty kill will have their work cut out for them to limit a power play featuring three players with at least five power play goals this season in Benn (8), Robertson (6) and Pavelski (6).
Time to reunite Hertl and Meier?
With Tomas Hertl’s suspension, Timo Meier was forced to play with someone else for basically the first time all season. Couture and Meier saw mixed results in the two-game shake-up. Against the Canucks, the line of Meier, Couture and Barabanov line posted 78.57 percent Corsi for (CF%), but had a tough outing against the Flyers, losing the share of unblocked shots and attempts with just 40 CF%.
Quinn is probably looking to spread some offense around between his top two lines, but Meier and Hertl together have been special.
For the good of the Sharks, and maximum fun, putting Meier and Hertl back together and hoping they can go goal-for-goal with the Stars’ top line is the best option. While Meier is going to be good on whatever line he plays on, having Hertl as the pivot allows him to reach his full potential and if Karlsson is on the ice slinging passes, that’s just about the only time the Sharks’ offense looks elite.
Bold prediction: Karlsson adds two more points to tie the franchise point streak record, but Robertson and Oettinger prove to be too much. The Sharks say good bye to 2022 with a 5-3 loss at American Airlines Center.