NHL Gameday: Vlasic looks likely to return as Sharks visit Oilers

NHL Gameday: Vlasic looks likely to return as Sharks visit Oilers

Programming note – Sharks-Oilers coverage starts today at 5:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California


Sharks: 24-14-2, 50 points, 1st Pacific Division
Oilers: 21-14-7, 49 points, 3rd Pacific Division


***Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be a game-time decision, according to Pete DeBoer, but indications were that he would likely return after missing the last four games. Vlasic was taking shifts on the Rogers Place ice with regular partner Justin Braun.

Vlasic, who looks noticeably better as the swelling has gone down in his face, said: “I’m doing my thing. We’ll see tonight.”

The defenseman said last week that he suffered “a couple fractures” and some nerve damage from taking a the Shayne Gostisbehere shot to the mouth late in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 30. He’s still in some discomfort, though, and said: “Until the nerves heal, I’ll still have some pain.” 

Vlasic was wearing an extra-long visor that came down to about his chin level. 

If he plays, Vlasic would replace Mirco Mueller, who stayed on the ice late Tuesday morning. Tim Heed may get in on defense, perhaps in place of Dylan DeMelo, although DeBoer wasn’t revealing anything.

Also judging from the morning skate, Micheal Haley will return on the fourth line in place of Tommy Wingels.

***The timing would seem to be ideal to get Vlasic back in the lineup, as the Oilers’ top line of Connor McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl is tearing up the league. McDavid remains atop the league scoring race with 48 points (14g, 34a).

“With or without him, we’ve got to have all five guys defending against a guy like that and a line like that,” DeBoer said. “It would be nice to have Vlasic, but if we don’t, it’s still a five-man commitment from whoever we do have.”

***The Sharks and Oilers were battling for first place the last time they met on Dec. 23, a 3-2 overtime win for San Jose at SAP Center. Edmonton would overtake the Sharks in the standings with a regulation win tonight (although the Sharks have two games in hand).

Tonight also marks the official halfway point of the regular season for the Sharks. It’s time to start looking at the standings more frequently, Joe Pavelski indicated.

“You get to that halfway mark you start thinking a little bit more about positioning, and these guys have played well,” said the captain. “They gave us a good game [on Dec. 23]. So, it will be competitive. 

“We understand the situation in the standings. Everyone is so close together, so any time you can get a couple points, it’s important. If we can create a little separation in these games, that [would be] nice.”


Sharks: Patrick Marleau. The all-time franchise scoring leader was bumped from the top line two games ago, but he’s scored a goal in each of those last two games while skating on the third line. He has six points (3g, 3a) in his last five games, and sits seven goals shy of 500 for his career.

Oilers: Patrick Maroon. The big winger leads the Oilers with 16 goals, and was named as the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Jan. 9, colleting five goals and one assist in four games including a hat trick in Boston on Jan. 5. He remains alongside star center Connor McDavid.


Timo Meier – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Patrick Marleau – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Melker Karlsson – Micheal Haley – Mikkel Boedker

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Zack Kassian
Benoit Pouliot – Drake Caggiula – Jordan Eberle
Anton Lander – Mark Letestu – Matt Hendricks

Oscar Klefbom – Eric Gryba
Andrej Sekera – Matt Benning
Kris Russell – Adam Larsson

Cam Talbot (starter)
Jonas Gustavsson


Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (face) is a game-time decision. David Schlemko (upper body) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Oilers: Brandon Davidson (illness) is day-to-day. Iiro Pakarinen (knee), Darnell Nurse (ankle surgery) and Tyler Pitlick (lower body) are out.


“I like our group when we’re healthy. We haven’t been. It’s hard for me to say because we haven’t had [Tomas] Hertl like we didn’t have Couture for 20-30 games. You plug him in and you’re a different team. If we can get healthy, I’m excited about the group we have here.” – Pete DeBoer, on if he likes where the Sharks are at the midway point of the season

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.