This Saturday, the Ottawa Senators will play what is arguably their second most anticipated game of the year. They will take on ex-captain Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center.
In the first match-up between these teams on Dec. 1, the Senators hammered the Sharks 6-2 on home ice at Canadian Tire Centre. Ex-Shark Mikkel Boedker tallied a four-point night, including the game’s first star, as the Sens dominated in their most anticipated game of the 2018-19 campaign.
However, in a little over a month, a lot has changed for both NHL clubs. The context, trends, and overall lead-up to this weekend’s game is very different from what it was in early December.
Karlsson is white hot
Prior to Karlsson’s first return to his former home, the Senators’ ex-captain was struggling to adjust to his new surroundings. In the 26 games before that match, Karlsson was very much unlike himself, registering just 15 points (2G, 13A). In the actual game versus Ottawa, he was shutdown and held pointless.
Since then, it’s been a different story- with a familiar feeling. ‘King’ Karlsson has returned to his elite stature and has become white hot. In the 17 games since the trip to Ottawa, he has amassed an incredible 26 points (1G, 25A). On the season, he is closing in on a point-per-game pace, with 41 points (3G, 38A) in 44 games.
Not long ago, Karlsson wasn’t even on the radar amongst the top 10 defensemen in scoring. Now, he is ranked fifth in the league in this department, sitting nine points behind the leader- his teammate, Brent Burns. For his colossal efforts, the 28-year-old Swede has quickly added himself, once again, to Norris Trophy discussions around the NHL.
The Sharks have not lost a game since the calendars flipped 11 days ago to 2019. San Jose is currently riding the surf on a five-game win streak. This includes victories against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and the seventh best team, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Since their visit to Ottawa, the Sharks are an incredible 14-3-2. On the 2018-19 season, they are 26-13-7. This ranks them second in the Pacific Division, just one point behind the Calgary Flames. Overall, they are ranked third in the NHL.
With the roster they have assembled, the Sharks’ success this season should not be a surprise. In this year’s NHL Pacific Division Preview, Full Press Coverage predicted the Sharks to be Stanley Cup contenders in the West this spring.
Four ex-Sharks in Ottawa’s line-up
Ottawa will have four former Shark products in their line-up when they make their visit this Saturday. Boedker, Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, and Rudolfs Balcers, were all part of the Sharks organization last year. All four were acquired by Ottawa in the off-season in two separate trades. Collectively, it will be their first return to San Jose as members of the Ottawa Senators.
Boedker has 26 points (5G, 21A) in 45 games for the Senators this season, while Tierney has been heating up of late. The 24-year-old centre has five points (2G, 3A) in his last three games. Furthermore, he is on pace to shatter his previous point total in one season. He set this as a Shark last year when he notched 40 points (17G, 23A) in 82 games. After 45 games this season, Tierney already has 29 points (6G, 23A).
DeMelo has been a serviceable defender in Ottawa this year and is currently slated on his team’s top pairing. Meanwhile, Balcers, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Sharks in 2015, made his NHL debut with the Senators last Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. After four games in his young career, the 21-year-old Latvian native has two points (1G, 1A).
Senators suffer from key injuries
The Senators will be wielding a very different looking team against the Sharks this Saturday compared to who they dressed on Dec. 1.
Ottawa will be without five roster players. This includes Matt Duchene (newborn son), Thomas Chabot (upper body injury), Craig Anderson (concussion), Colin White (upper body injury), and Ben Harpur (upper body injury). Essentially, from this group of players, the Sens are down their best centreman, their best defenseman, and their best goaltender.
Ottawa is banged up, could start showing signs of road fatigue. This week, they have traveled across the North American continent and much of the Californian state. Although the ex-Sharks will be excited to make their first return as Senators, the demands of this game will be high and taxing. Ottawa will need to play their best hockey if they want any chance of earning a California sweep.
The Sharks, on the other hand, are on home ice. They own one of the most difficult and louder arenas in the NHL. They boast a mostly healthy roster that is fully loaded with star players. Three of whom- Joe Pavelski, Burns, and Karlsson, have been tapped to play in the 2019 NHL All Star Game later this month. In addition, the Sharks will be hungry for vengeance after being upset and humiliated in Ottawa. Yet, perhaps most importantly, is the Karlsson factor. ‘EK65’ seems to have finally moved on from his days as a Senator. Deep down, he could be anxious to please his new fans by making an example out of his former club. He’s in top form as the hurting Senators enter the shark tank.
This game is definitely San Jose’s to lose.
Cover Photo Credit: Tony Avelar / Associated Press
Billy Morrison covers the Ottawa Senators and the Atlantic Division for Full Press Coverage. Follow Billy on Twitter, @BillyMorrison01.