the Sharks are better off without Vlasic right now – Daily Democrat
SAN JOSE — Pete DeBoer might need to start looking over his shoulder.
Sick on the couch, the Sharks coach handed managerial duties over to his longtime bench-mate Steve Spott Tuesday and his team completed its homestand with a 3-0 record.
The Sharks also earned a win on Nov. 21, 2015 when DeBoer gave the bench to Spott in Pittsburgh to deal with personal matters. If he isn’t careful, his good friend might just steal his job.
Kidding aside, the Sharks are firing on all cylinders right now, winning four straight and improving to 6-1 since the Christmas break. It might not matter who’s behind the bench when the team is clicking.
Here’s what we learned in the Sharks 7-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at SAP Center:
1. The Sharks are better off without Marc-Edouard Vlasic right now.
Usually, when the Edmonton Oilers travel to Silicon Valley, it means that Connor McDavid is going to be seeing a lot of Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He got a reprieve on Tuesday.
Or did he?
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With Vlasic and his longtime partner Justin Braun sidelined by injuries, the Sharks threw a different look at McDavid. He’s probably hoping that Vlasic and Braun are back in the lineup when the Sharks visit Edmonton on Feb. 9.
The Oilers captain spent most of his 16:28 of even strength ice time skating against the pairing of Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon and got held off the scoresheet, posting a minus-3 rating. In fact, McDavid didn’t record a single shot on goal in five-on-five situations.
The stingy-defensive performance sans the Vlasic-Braun pairing isn’t exactly a one-off.
The Sharks limited a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that’s averaging 4.12 goals per game to just 20 shots on Saturday, snapping their 16-game point streak. On Monday, they held the Los Angeles Kings to just three high-danger scoring chances over the game’s final 40 minutes.
A lot of factors are playing into the Sharks defensive frugality without their top-shutdown pairing. Karlsson and Brent Burns are eating more ice time. Radim Simek, Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are stepping up and giving the team responsible minutes. The Sharks forwards are contributing to a five-man game and the offense is keeping the puck in the zone.
But it also turns out that Karlsson is quite a defender, as well. He can handle all of Vlasic’s responsibilities while giving the Sharks more offensive punch.
“He’s as good in our end as he is in the offensive zone,” Spott said.
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With Karlsson in the lineup, do the Sharks still need to lean on Vlasic against the top offenses in the NHL? The recent sample, albeit small, suggests that the Sharks might be just fine without him and his team-worst minus-13 rating.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that Vlasic is washed up or that the Sharks aren’t going to need him down the road, especially if Karlsson signs elsewhere in the offseason. Bets are that Vlasic will climb out of his slump and remind everyone why he’s considered an elite defenseman. That said, he might not be as valuable to the team in its current form as he was in the past.
The Sharks have played three of their best defensive games of the season without him.
“At the end of the night, (Vlasic) is a great defender,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ll be happy when they come back. But guys are doing a tremendous job. It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. We have a formula for success.”
2. Karlsson joins elite company with historic point streak.
Next up on Karlsson’s hit list: Bobby Orr, Phil Housley and Brian Leetch.
Karlsson joined elite company Wednesday, becoming just the fifth defenseman in NHL history to record assists in 14 consecutive appearances. If Karlsson picks up an assist against the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday, he’ll pass Orr and Housley while tying Leetch’s 15-game assists streak set during the 1991-92 season. Paul Coffey holds the record, grabbing assists in 17 straight games during the 1985-86 campaign.
“To be honest, it’s not really shocking to many of us,” Dillon said. “We’re lucky enough to see him every day at the practice rink, at the game rink, he’s just a special, special player.”
The three-point night, Karlsson’s second in as many days, also made him the 13th defensemen to record points in 14 straight games. He’s collected 25 points over that span.
Karlsson earned secondary assists on Evander Kane’s opening goal at 6:37 of the first and Joonas Donskoi’s second goal at 10:44 of the third. He also recorded the primary assist on Brent Burns’ eighth of the year on a Sharks power play at 15:37 of the second.
“He’s really established his game in our structure,” Pavelski said. “We feel comfortable playing with him. He’s been a big piece to our success lately.”
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) January 9, 2019
Speaking of ridiculous-offensive numbers, here’s a few more: With a goal and an assist, Burns has amassed 14 points in seven games. Kane scored two more goals and picked up an assist, giving him 17 points in 16 games. Donskoi scored two, giving him seven goals in six games.
3. Kane closes the gap.
Last week, I wrote about the game within the game as the Sharks head into contract negotiations with Pavelski and Timo Meier this year.
The seven-year, $49 million deal that Kane signed last summer set a benchmark that will certainly come up in contract talks this offseason. You can imagine that Pavelski and Meier’s agents will be making comparisons to Kane’s numbers when they sit down with general manager Doug Wilson.
Kane is helping Wilson’s budget headache by closing the gap in the Sharks scoring race.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) January 9, 2019
With five tallies in four games, Kane tied Logan Couture for third on the team in goals Tuesday with 16 on the year. He now trails Meier, who hasn’t found the back of the net in 12 games, by only two goals.
Still, Kane will need to get some work done to lower Pavelski’s price tag. He still trails the captain by nine goals.