Sharks

Any time without Vlasic would represent a real test for the Sharks

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USATI

Any time without Vlasic would represent a real test for the Sharks

The San Jose Sharks sealed their first three-game winning streak with a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night. In the process, they still experienced their biggest loss of the season.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game just over a minute into the third period with an apparent head injury. Predators forward Ryan Johansen lined up Vlasic for a hit along the boards, and his elbow appeared to drive Vlasic’s head into the boards.

Head coach Peter DeBoer offered no update on Vlasic’s status after the game. Given Vlasic’s own injury history, and his importance to the team, the Sharks have plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Last season, Vlasic suffered multiple facial fractures after taking a puck to the face in a December 30 with over the Philadelphia Flyers. Vlasic missed the next four games, and was not the same player defensively after returning.

He scored 19 points in 40 games after the injury, compared to 9 in 35 before, but his puck possession numbers cratered upon his return. Last season was the first in Vlasic’s career where the Sharks attempted less shots than their opponents with the defenseman on the ice, according to Hockey Reference.

Since Vlasic appeared to suffer another injury to his head, the Sharks will need to be extra cautious working him back to health and towards a return to the lineup. His recovery is the most important priority, even as the Sharks will likely struggle in his absence.

Even though Vlasic failed to drive play in the same way he’s done in the past last season, his presence opens up opportunities for his fellow defensemen. This season, no Sharks blueliner has started a lower percentage of shifts in the offensive zone than Vlasic, per Natural Stat Trick.

With Vlasic and partner Justin Braun drawing the toughest assignments, Brent Burns and Tim Heed are freed up and able to create offensively while playing against more manageable competition. Vlasic’s potential absence, then, will fundamentally change how DeBoer utilizes his defense.

The Sharks could soon have reinforcements, as defenseman Paul Martin is practicing with the team and DeBoer told reporters after the game he’s “getting closer” to a return from injured reserve. His return will ensure something resembling normalcy on the blueline, as San Jose will still have three defenseman playing on their proper side.

Make no mistake, though: any time without Vlasic would represent a real test for the Sharks, who went just 2-4-1 without him last season. Any team is in trouble after losing a minutes-eating defenseman to injury, but the Sharks are especially dependent upon him.

Vlasic’s presence makes life easier for his teammates, and his absence will make things much harder as the team is beginning to hit its stride.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

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USATSI

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.

Sharks fall to Bruins for second straight loss

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Sharks fall to Bruins for second straight loss

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Anton Khudobin stopped 36 shots to lead the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

Peter CehlarikJake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen scored to help the Bruins get their second straight win after a four-game skid (0-3-1). Boston had totaled nine goals in its previous five games, scoring more than two for just the second time in nine November games.

Khudobin remained unbeaten in regulation (5-0-2) and improved to 4-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average in five games against the Sharks.

Timo Meier scored and Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves for the Sharks, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. San Jose has been held to two of fewer goals in five of their seven games this month.

Meier gave the Sharks, losers of two straight following wins in six of seven, a short-lived 1-0 lead after tapping in a rebound 4:50 into the game. Daniel O'Regan, making his season debut, won the puck behind the net and skated around to take the shot that bounced to Meier. It was O'Regan's first career assist and second career point.

Cehlarik, in his 14th game, scored his first career goal about 1 1/2 minutes later to tie it for the Bruins.

Boston took the lead on DeBrusk's goal with 9:14 left in the first. Charlie McAvoy cleared a puck in his zone that DeBrusk chased down and easily beat Dell 1-on-1.

Heinen made it 3-1 with 5:51 left in the third. Kevan Miller skated down the ice, drawing all the attention on the right side. He passed across the crease, from where Heinen tapped it in.

The Sharks had a goal negated for the second straight game, this one two minutes in.

NOTES: Sharks F Danny O'Regan was recalled before the game. He's the leading scorer for the Barracuda of the AHL. ... The Sharks have had three consecutive goals reversed after challenges dating to Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. ... Sharks F Joel Ward has recorded points in six of his last eight games. ... DeBrusk, who assisted on Cehlarik's goal, recorded his first multi-point game since Oct. 14, a span of 14 games.

UP NEXT

Bruins: At the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Sharks: Host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.