Player Power Rankings, Week 8: Erik Karlsson, good sports boy

Hej, här kommer Karlsson!

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) player power rankings. Who had the biggest impact, the best goals or the prettiest smile in the week that was and who you should totally grab off of waivers in your fantasy league to stick it to Derek in accounts receivable. All rankings subject to the whims of fate and whatever we’re feeling in the moment.

For a week during which the San Jose Sharks batted a feel-good-NHL-loser-point .500, there seems to be a lot of consternation in the fan base concerning the direction the team is going. The Sharks’ 1-1-1 record this week had a little bit of everything, and not a ton of hope. San Jose was undone by poor team defense and goaltending in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers, they were strong on team defense and goaltending, but weak in 5-on-5 control in a 4-0 shut out of the Vancouver Canucks, and they were weak on, well, pretty much everything in a 6-0 smack down at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It seems that one of the Sharks’ only consistencies this season has been their inconsistency. While their 12-8-4 record is even in wins and losses, those four overtime losses count in the standings, which is what really matters. Should a team that sits first in their division, off-and-on, and holds a record two wins over .500 be the cause for this much concern?

Well, probably, yeah.

The Pacific Division’s -64 goal differential is the worst in the league by far (the Metropolitan is -2) and, while the Sharks have not had the opportunity to feast on their Western brethren as much as they may like (only six of their 24 games have featured Pacific division opponents), San Jose has the talent up and down their roster to have somewhat separated themselves from the pack at the quarter point of the season, and they haven’t. Even the score sheet domination of the Canucks this week raises some concerns, as the Sharks held only a 46.58 percent shot attempt share at 5-on-5 and rode primarily on the back of excellent special teams play.

The Sharks have alternated wins and losses for the last six games and have only strung more than two wins together once this season. When talking about this team’s inconsistency in results, one can’t help but consider inconsistencies in process. Whether the constant and often baffling lineup decisions from the Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer and his staff are a result of their up and down play or a cause of it is likely inscrutable, but the decisions on who plays every night and who sits seems to be largely divorced from on ice process.

The decision to start Aaron Dell on Saturday night in Vegas was particularly perplexing. More than once over the past ten or so seasons, data have shown that there is a significant decrease in a goaltenders save percentage in all situations in their second start in as many nights. DeBoer’s justification of pointing to Dell’s shut out of a depth starved road team with significant injury concerns the night before is a head scratcher.

Speaking of scratcher, the healthy scratches of positive impact players like Antti Suomela (stay tuned!) and, to a lesser extent, Joakim Ryan, in favor of less consistently effective skaters (Melker Karlsson and Justin Braun have struggled mightily at times), seems like a less than optimal way to get the most out of this roster.

Maybe DeBoer is rearranging deck chairs on purpose to see what they might look like early in the season, maybe he’s trying to work around the waiver status of the team’s two extraneous defenders and get some playing time for Tim Heed, maybe he wants to see what current AHL players like Lukas Radil can bring to an NHL lineup, maybe Martin Jones is nursing an injury more serious than we know and could really benefit from the extra three days off before the Sharks travel to Buffalo to take on the surging Sabres on Tuesday, maybe he meditated with the Time Stone and saw all possible futures and is only pretending to make bizarre lineup decisions because he knows it is the only possible series of events that prevents annihilation, it’s hard to know for sure. From here, though, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

On an unrelated note, who ended up hiring Joel Quenneville?

1. Erik Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week312332853.66

Last week: 2

Process-wise, Erik Karlsson has always been here. Results-wise, he’s arrived. Karlsson’s three-point night on Friday marked the Swede’s 33rd career three-point game and capped off a stretch of eight points in five games. Karlsson paced the Sharks in points and in time on ice this week, all while sporting a respectable shot attempt share and maybe the team’s only respectable November mustache. While the team may still need some time to round into form, Karlsson will already be there when they do.

Karlsson drew a lot of attention this week for two goal-scoring plays that fed off of that sweet one legged snap shot from the blue line he loves so well, but what really stood out to me about his play that night were his break outs. Moving the puck out of the defensive zone in a controlled manner is a large and becoming larger part of the modern NHL defenseman’s arsenal, and Karlsson is one of the masters. This bank pass to Joe Pavelski in the neutral zone is a great example of Karlsson using a less conventional lane to move the puck up the ice, and results in a great three on two scoring chance for Joonas Donskoi.

2. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week303302754.67

Kevin Labanc capitalized on the Sharks’ power play dominance this week, setting up those bombs from the high slot by swooping into offensive zone draws on more than a few occasions. Labanc’s success with the man advantage is increasing along with his ice time here, a trend which portends further success. On the season, Labanc is averaging 2:36 per game on the power play, this week that number was up to 3:19. It’s a small sample, and the Canucks’ parade to the penalty box helped, but that’s a pretty big difference, and he’s making the most of his time there.

Labanc does that little walk from the point down to the face off dot with the puck a lot, and here, I think it’s safe to assume he’s playing with the defenders’ expectations a bit. Three Canucks get caught puck watching and follow Labanc down, a pattern he exploits with a slick little no-look backhand pass through the legs of an unfortunate Markus Granlund right onto the stick of a waiting Brent Burns. Burns with the puck on the blue line ends pretty much as you’d expect it to.

3. Joe Thornton

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week303330552.86

Last week: 4

As sand sifts inexorably through the hourglass of our fleeting and fragile lives, so accumulate the career accolades of the NHL’s 101st best player of all time, Joe Thornton. Thornton moved past Mario Lemieux for sole possession of 11th place on the NHL’s all time assists list and, later that evening, recorded his 750th assist as a San Jose Shark. Thornton can stay on this team for the rest of his life, as far as I’m concerned.

Oh, look, another no look backhand pass into a goal from Thornton, ho hum. A lot of similarities arise between this play and the Labanc play mentioned earlier, a compliment to the youngster. Thornton cruising down the wall at mach-Thornton draws Tim Schaller away from Karlsson at the line. With both Schaller and Granlund held down low covering the big man, he seemingly effortlessly tosses it back to Karlsson, who bombs it home.

4. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week320220734.38

With two goals on the week, Logan Couture paced the Sharks in that category, as the rest of the team’s tallies were spread throughout the lineup. While his possession numbers this week were less than stellar, his on ice shot attempt share at 5-on-5 of 51.36 percent is respectable for a player with the fifth fewest offensive zone starts on the team. Couture’s two-way play is a big part of the engine that drives this team’s success when they have any, and potting a few goals here and there is gravy.

This is just great stuff. I’ll forego the veritable army of Taylor Hall — Adam Larsson jokes here because I’ve made one already just by mentioning them, but Couture really victimizes the poor boy here. As soon as Larsson turns his hips toward the boards here, it’s over for him. Couture uses Larsson’s lateral momentum against him, as a quick toe drag takes the defender right out of the play. It’s a slick move from Couture, but it’s more of a misstep from Larsson that makes the breakaway possible. As for Mikko Koskinen, well, every goal is at least partially the goaltender’s fault, but that kind of far side corner picking snap is about as perfect as a shot gets that close in.

5. Antti Suomela

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week300000257.14

Last week: 5

This may be becoming a trend. As much as a line between two points can be called a trend. Suomela led the Sharks in 5-on-5 shot share this week, and was rewarded for his play by a healthy scratch in favor of Lukas Radil. No short shrift to Radil, who looked just fine amidst the faster pace of the NHL, but the coaching staff must be seeing something undesirable in Suomela that we aren’t. His impact on play as a fourth line center is less than it was when he was sharing most of his ice time with Joonas Donskoi, but Suomela has proven himself to be a more than capable bottom-six center, with the ability to move up the line up when needed, so DeBoer’s insistence on making him the bottom of the roster in terms of moving pieces in and out is baffling.

This play may be more of a Karlsson highlight, or an Oscar Klefbom lowlight, but Suomela getting a shot off that quickly is what caused Klefbom to panic and jerk his knee up as if a spoon fell off of a plate that he was carrying into the other room. Suomela’s pivot into a shooting position right after sprinting into the low slot is quick enough to catch the Oilers’ defense of guard, and almost enough to get him on the board.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Timo Meier: Meier led the squad in shots on goal this week, and had the second most shot attempts in all situations. Even when he isn’t producing to the degree to which we’d become accustomed as recently as two weeks ago, Meier is generating dangerous chances.

Aaron Dell: Some of that Vegas abomination is on Dell, no doubt, but there is a lot to be said (linked above) about the effect of back to back starts on NHL goaltenders, and Dell’s performance the night before against the visiting Canucks was impressive. If you need to wash out the taste of that failed poke check on Alex Tuch, check out this one on Brendan Leipsic.

Marcus Sorensen: The chemistry between the budding talent of Sorensen and the tough, grizzled veneer of Joe Thornton has set my heart aflutter. Yet another reason to scrap the CBA and sign Jumbo to a forever contract.