Erik Karlsson's Offensive Improvement Comes at Perfect Time for Sharks

Erik Karlsson is in the middle of his best offensive stretch with the Sharks. The defenseman extended the longest point streak of his San Jose career (so far) to five games with an assist in Sunday's win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

But Karlsson's strong production actually dates back a bit further.

His assist Sunday was his 15th point since Nov. 13, the night he ended a seven-game pointless streak. Those 15 points in a litte over a month is good for third-most on the Sharks, and third-most among all NHL defensemen, entering Monday.

Fifteen points (two goals, 13 assists) in 16 games isn't surprising for someone who averaged 0.83 per game entering this season, but is far more than the mere seven Karlsson scored in his first 18 games in Teal. 

So what exactly is behind his offensive turnaround? You can point to regression to the mean, but it's arguably even simpler than that: Karlsson just did what he does best. 

Let's get luck out of the way first, though. Karlsson has been luckier in his last 16 games than his first 18. The chart below notes the Sharks' shooting percentages with Karlsson in 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 situations during each stretch, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

SituationFirst 18 GamesLast 16 Games

The power-play increase in particular is eye-popping, but neither of those percentages alone explain his improvement. Karlsson's underlying numbers, however, fill in a lot of gaps. 

Karlsson has been a much more prolific shooter over his last 16 games. He's scored twice on the power play, and upped his shot/attempt rates at even strength -- as the table below shows.

StatFirst 18Last 16
5v5 iCF/6019.1219.66
5v5 iFF/6011.1113.51
5v5 iSF/607.110.03
5v4 iCF/6022.6227.95
5v4 iFF/6011.3126.62
5v4 iSF/608.2213.31

Karlsson has not only shot more over the last month, but he's also gotten more shots through. Nearly 75 percent of his shot attempts across all situations in the last 16 games were unblocked, compared to only 55 percent in his first 18 games. 

That has made a big difference on the power play, and should eventually pay dividends at even strength. On the season, Karlsson is generating 5-on-5 scoring chances at the fourth-highest rate of his career. Given his shot rate over the last 16 games would be the highest of his career, his first 5-on-5 goal may not be far away.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' comeback win over Blackhawks]

As Karlsson gets more shots on net, so have the Sharks when he's been on the ice -- especially at even strength. Although San Jose has attempted about three fewer shots per hour when Karlsson played 5-on-5 in the last 16 games compared to the first 18, nearly four-and-a-half more were on frame. The Sharks have also generated an additional three-and-a-half scoring chances per hour in this timeframe. 

Relative to when he's been off the ice in 5-on-5 situations, Karlsson's recent impact has been particularly evident. 

StatFirst 18Last 16
5v5 CF/60 REL+4.6+13.8
5v5 CF% REL+4.42+9.3
5v5 FF/60 REL-0.03+12.49
5v5 FF% REL2.06+8.99
5v5 SF/60 REL-0.01+11.38
5v5 SF% REL-0.58+8.14

Those are staggering numbers. In the last 16 games, the Sharks have attempted nearly 14 more shots with Karlsson on the ice than when he wasn't. They also controlled 58.1 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts, up from 48.8 percent. 

With Karlsson on the ice over the last month, the Sharks have swam. When he wasn't, they have treaded water.

In fact, over a full season, the relative 5-on-5 numbers from Karlsson's last 16 games would be better than any of his previous nine seasons. That near-decade includes two seasons in which he won a Norris Trophy, two more when he was a runner-up, and four as a first-team All-Star. 

[RELATED: Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley traded to Peterborough Petes of OHL]

That impact has translated to goals for the Sharks, if not Karlsson himself. With Karlsson on the ice, the Sharks have scored an additional half-a-goal per hour of 5-on-5 play during that time. That was the sixth-highest rate on the team, despite Karlsson's on-ice shooting percentage ranking only 13th. 

The sample size is much smaller, but it is still worth noting that the Sharks have attempted more 5-on-4 shots -- and more scoring chances -- with Karlsson on the ice in the last month. His impact hasn't been as pronounced as in 5-on-5 situations, but he's still been much better on the power play than in his first 18 games.  

Karlsson wasn't bad in those first batch of games, but he wasn't himself, either. The last month was a real step forward, as he's begun to look like the player who ratcheted the Sharks' preseason expectations sky high. 

San Jose surely won't mind if he sticks around.

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