William Karlsson rode the edges of his blades, shifting and turning as he hounded Arizona defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere into making a dangerous pass in front of the net during the first period Saturday.
The Golden Knights center then applied pressure to Arizona’s Travis Boyd, who was the recipient of Gostisbehere’s hot-potato pass and circled his own net in an attempt to shake free of the forecheck.
Karlsson got a piece of Boyd’s attempted clearance, then tracked back and dug the puck free to linemate Jonathan Marchessault in the buildup to Zach Whitecloud’s goal that opened the scoring in a 6-1 victory at T-Mobile Arena.
“You never question his effort or his commitment to playing the right way every night for us,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “That’s the identity of this team since day one is they play the right way, outwork opponents, and Will’s a big part of that.
“He just hasn’t stuck the puck in the net.”
Karlsson has been mired in a season-long scoring slump despite efforts like the one Saturday, which did lead to a secondary assist.
But as the Knights prepare for a three-game swing through western Canada starting Tuesday at Vancouver, there are signs the former 40-goal scorer finally might be warming up.
“I feel like a lot of games I have been playing well, but the points aren’t there,” Karlsson said. “I wish I had an answer.”
Karlsson was off to a slow start when he was hit with a shot by teammate Shea Theodore and broke his foot against Anaheim on Oct. 29. He was sidelined for 15 games and produced at his usual rate after his return but went cold after the All-Star break.
From Feb. 9 to March 15, Karlsson went 15 games without a goal. His shooting percentage sits at 8.9 percent this season, well below his career average of 13.1 percent and the lowest of his five seasons with the Knights.
“Maybe you don’t feel as confident as you do when you’re flying high,” Karlsson said. “I feel like at least when it comes to execution in front of the net, it hasn’t been sharp. Obviously we can see that in point production. It hasn’t really been there. On that aspect, I can’t say I’m satisfied.”
After a breakout 43-goal effort in 2017-18, Karlsson settled into becoming a consistent 20-goal, 50-point performer when healthy. But this season the scoring has dried up, with 10 goals. And the playmaking numbers are noticeably down.
Karlsson produced more than 30 assists in each of his first three seasons with the Knights and was on pace again last season during the shortened 56-game schedule.
In 58 games this season, Karlsson has 17 assists despite seeing almost the same amount of average ice time and skating on a line with Marchessault, the Knights’ leading goal scorer. Winger Reilly Smith has been out since March 10 with a lower-body injury.
“He just needs to get a little confidence and get on a roll,” DeBoer said of Karlsson.
With Jack Eichel and Chandler Stephenson emerging as the top two point-getters down the middle, Karlsson could become expendable this offseason. He’s one of six remaining players from the inaugural season and carries a $5.9 million salary cap hit through 2026-27.
Despite the dip in production, Karlsson remains the second-line center, and his assist against the Coyotes gave him points in five of the past six games.
“I go into every game and want to contribute, and especially now the situation we’re in, every game is huge,” Karlsson said. “I want to be up there and help the team.”