Panthers at Sharks Preview: How long can Karlsson do this?
The Florida Panthers (5-4-1) make their yearly trip to the Tank to face the San Jose Sharks (3-8-1), coming off a surprising 3-1 loss to the Arizona Sun Devils Arizona Coyotes. Florida has had an odd start to the season, with wins over the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, but dropping games to the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. While the Panthers are still trying to figure out the team’s identity with new addition, Matthew Tkachuk, they have not had a signature win against a top team, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins, leaving this team in flux and trying to reload after going all in last season.
Florida was the league’s best team last season, winning the very cursed President’s Trophy with a 58-18-6 record and 122 points, and looking like a juggernaut while doing it. The team averaged 4.11 goals and over 37 shots per game.
At the trade deadline, general manager Bill Zito acquired defender Ben Chariot from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2022 fourth-round draft pick, an unprotected 2023 first-round pick and center prospect Ty Smilanic. He also added Robert Hagg from the Buffalo for a 2022 sixth-round pick. The big trade was adding longtime Flyers captain Claude Giroux for a 2023 third-round pick, a 2024 first-round pick (top-10 protected) and forward Owen Tippett.
While the Panthers looked like the team to finally earn Joe Thornton the Stanley Cup that he deserves, the power play — who operated at a 24.4 percent rate in the regular season — went ice cold and the team was swept by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Lightning. The skater-advantage went 1-for-13 in the series and 1-for-31 over the entire postseason (3.2%).
The off-season saw more change as Florida shipped off All-Star forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defender MacKenzie Weegar and prospect Cole Schwindt, plus a 2025 first-round pick for forward Matthew Tkachuk. As part of the trade package, Tkachuk agreed to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension before taking his talents to Southern Florida. Zito spent the rest of the off-season filling out the roster with players like Rudolfs Balcers, Colin White, as well as brothers Marc and Eric Staal to low-cost contracts.
Heading into this game, left winger Anthony Duclair is on long-term injured reserve while he recovers from an off-season Achilles surgery. Aaron Ekblad is also on LTIR with a Grade 2 groin strain he suffered against the Bruins. He should return in mid-November.
The Sharks saw Erik Karlsson score his first-ever career hat trick on Tuesday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Anaheim Ducks, losing 6-5 in a shootout. The Sharks remain relatively healthy, with Markus Nutivaara remaining on IR.
Have the Cats lost their bite?
The Panthers were an absolute steamroller last season. In last season’s visit to Sunrise, the Panthers attempted 91 shots on the way to a 5-4 overtime win. In 30 games, Florida attempted at least 70 shots — the Sharks had four such games in 2021-22.
This season, the Panthers continue to lay on shots attempts, including a 109-shot performance against the Flyers. But the team hasn’t received the same puck luck, currently averaging 3.00 goals per game, down over a full goal per game from last year.
The underlying metrics are positive, but Florida’s special teams have been what’s killing the offense. If your power play is worse than the Sharks, you’ve got a problem. The Panthers are going to have a major test to get the power play going against the Sharks’ penalty kill, however, especially if James Reimer is in net.
Last one. James Reimer is making the PK look way better than it actually is. Enjoy! pic.twitter.com/aEO28s98gy— JD Young (Content Boi) (@MyFryHole) October 31, 2022
Can Erik Karlsson keep this going?
Erik Karlsson’s nine goals rank second in the league, as of the morning of November 2. Noted-scoring winger Erik Karlsson (wink), is second in the NHL in goals. He’s contributed 15 points on the team’s 29 goals. He has contributed with a goal or an assist on 52 percent of all of San Jose’s goals this season. Karlsson is the reason that the Sharks are competitive in most of these games, notching three game-winning goals in the team’s three wins.
While Karlsson will never live up to the contract he signed, he has found a way to turn back the clock to his most dominant form. This level of production doesn’t feel sustainable — probably because we’re so used to seeing him play through injury — but Karlsson is on a heater and has entered the Norris conversation early. Forget the Norris, give Karlsson the Rocket Richard.
Erik Karlsson on pace for 62 goals. I say he does it.— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) November 2, 2022
Defense in hope and pray mode?
The Panthers' plan of attack is to shoot at any chance. The Sharks' defenders will be more than happy to oblige. Karlsson is the only blueliner with a positive share of unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi) this season. San Jose gave up 44 shots to Anaheim on Tuesday, a team that averages 29 shots per game. Reimer’s 4.1 goals saved above expected along with Karlsson’s wizardry are what creates an occasional winning formula in San Jose.
Radim Simek, Mario Ferraro, Matt Benning and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic are going to have their work cut out for them to try to limit a Panthers offense that is ready to break out. On average this season, the blueline has done a solid job of keeping shots down, ranking 10th with 30.9, but high-powered offenses like the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes have put up over 35 shots, despite only scoring two goals each. This, meanwhile, is not a winning formula.
Bold Prediction: Erik Karlsson scores a goal and assists on a Tomas Hertl goal, but Rudolfs Balcers scores the game-winner as Florida’s offense puts away a 4-2 win.