Truth By Numbers: Is Erik Karlsson really struggling in San Jose?

San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson shoots against the Calgary Flames. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Today we’re debuting a new column that will run every Friday, where I take on a bunch of smaller topics with some data-driven analysis.

SPOTLIGHT PERFORMANCE

Each week we’re going to pick a big performance, which could be good or bad, in one game or over a few. We’ll look at the numbers behind the performance and what we can learn from them.

The first thing I wanted to shine a spotlight on this season was Brayden Point’s five-point game against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, which shot him up to lead the Lightning in points so far this season, an impressive feat on a team that boasts players such as Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

So what did Point do differently in his explosive five-point game? To find out, we can compare it to his average game this season.

Sometimes everything just breaks right for you, but it definitely looks like Point had a strong game on top of getting some nice conversion rates on his plays. He was far more active in the offensive and neutral zones against the Devils than he has been in his average game this season. Every single shot attempt he took came from the slot, and he almost doubled the amount of chances he usually gets. He completed more passes in the offensive zone than he usually attempts, too, with 16.

He crushed it in the neutral zone, directing traffic with a whopping nine completed passes there, nearly triple his season average, which helped his teammates regroup and find better attacking lanes off the rush.

It was a bit closer to an average game for him in puck carrying, but overall you can see why he had such a good game, even if scoring five points is rare, he clearly earned a few of those.

Point seems to be getting better and better each season, and with a bit of a slow start offensively from Steven Stamkos (on a 55-point pace), I think the big question right now is whether or not it’s possible for Point to take over as the Lightning’s best centre?

Over the totality of Point’s career Stamkos is still quite far ahead. I had Stamkos ranked as the 14th-best centre in the NHL over the past three seasons in on my summer ranking project for Sportsnet, whereas Point was at 32. He was the second-highest ranked centre of any in their sophomore season, after Auston Matthews.

Interestingly though, looking at last season alone, Point ranked ahead of Stamkos, finishing as the 27th-most impactful centre, and Stamkos finishing 31st. There’s not enough space between the two players to be definitive there, but it’s very interesting that within two years Point was able to close the gap despite Stamkos having the benefit of playing with Kucherov.

Last season Stamkos remained a much better offensive player than Point, but his defensive play had fallen off a cliff. Point has already become a brilliant two-way player and matched Jonathan Toews in defensive impact in 2017-18.

It’s worth noting that despite Point producing more points so far, Stamkos is still creating an elite 8.82 scoring chances for the Lightning every 20 minutes at 5-on-5, while Point is at 6.08, so there is still a gap between them when it comes to directly creating offence. But don’t be surprised if by the end of the year Point is playing more minutes than Stamkos.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

THE QUESTION

In this section every week Steve Dangle is going to have a question he wants answered:

Is Erik Karlsson proof the west-coast mute button is real because I’ve heard so little. All I’ve heard is he hasn’t been up to his standard. What do the early numbers actually say?

Karlsson has been killed by on-ice percentages this season, with the 15th-worst PDO in the league among players with 50 or more minutes played at 5-on-5. The Sharks are scoring on just 4.17 per cent of their shots while he’s on the ice, and getting scored on 15.1 per cent of the shots they give up, per Corsica. Does shot quality have something to do with it?

Unsurprisingly, no, it’s just bad luck to start the year. Karlsson is absolutely crushing it so far in San Jose in the underlying numbers, ranking fifth overall among defencemen in shot attempt differential, 16th in shots on goal differential, 41st in high danger chances differential, 23rd in slot pass differential, and 18th in the highest percentage of rebounds recovered in his own zone.

Karlsson is who he always has been. But there’s lots of radio silence in San Jose right now because everyone thought they’d be great, but while they’ve played great, their results have been mediocre with a 6-4-3 record because of a horrid PDO run.

Eventually that will correct itself and San Jose is going to be pretty scary, and then I’m assuming we’ll start to hear more Karlsson hype. If we don’t, then maybe the West really does get ignored.

A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday.

BUY OR SELL

In this quick hits section we’ll look at hot and cold players or teams, and whether the streaks are earned or not.

Patrick Marleau broke a five-game pointless streak with a goal against the Dallas Stars, but he has two points in his past 10 games despite heavy usage. Marleau is no longer a 200-foot player at this stage of his career, with his main asset being consistent scoring ability. So far this year his scoring chance and shot numbers are down despite playing most of the year with Auston Matthews. I’d be a little worried.

• The Stars’ penalty kill has been unreal of late, killing off 20 of their past 21 minor penalties. They’re good, but not quite that good. The Stars are allowing the eighth-fewest high danger chances and seventh-fewest scoring chances on net while shorthanded this season, and only the sixth-fewest passes to the slot. Ben Bishop’s rebound control has also helped them — he’s not giving anyone second chances on the PK.

Drake Caggiula has been providing some much-needed secondary scoring for the Oilers, and his four goals in the past four games has earned him some time with Connor McDavid. Caggiula has had a really strong start to the season, but I’m not convinced this is a match made in heaven. McDavid loves to attack off the rush, and Caggiula has really struggled to create that way in his career. So far this season Caggiula has feasted on cycle chances where his shot is preceded by a pass, which could work with McDavid, but I don’t think it’s a long-term solution.

Ilya Kovalchuk is finally starting to produce offensively, with five points in his past two games, but how real is it? So far this season Kovalchuk is involved in creating just 5.13 scoring chances per 20 minutes he’s on the ice at 5-on-5, which is below league average for forwards. The past couple games he’s averaged 6.5, which is a bit above league average, but nothing standout. He’s still got a killer shot, but I don’t think he’s a star anymore.

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