Sharks

Why you should keep an eye on Justin Braun with Vlasic out vs Ducks

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USATSI

Why you should keep an eye on Justin Braun with Vlasic out vs Ducks

Brent Burns won’t be the only Sharks defenseman skating without his usual partner on Saturday night against the Ducks.

Justin Braun will, too, as Marc-Edouard Vlasic will join fellow injured blueliner Paul Martin in the press box.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer normally tasks Braun and Vlasic with the team’s most difficult defensive assignments, giving the pair the least amount of offensive zone starts and deploying them against the toughest competition.

In that role, the two have not lived up to their usual standards over the last year and change. Since the start of last season, the Sharks are losing the possession battle with the pair on the ice, accounting for only 46.3 percent of the shot attempts, according to Corsica.

For context, Braun and Vlasic had never failed to account for 50 percent of the shot attempts in their respective careers before last year.

Last season, both players fared better away from each other than they did together. In just over 232 minutes apart, the Sharks controlled 57.18 percent of even strength shot attempts with Vlasic on the ice, and 50.49 percent with Braun, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Braun posted his best possession numbers alongside Brenden Dillon last season, and Dillon is likely to be Braun’s partner against Anaheim, the San Jose Mercury News’ Paul Gackle reported. The duo controlled 52.82 percent of the shot attempts together, and only started 1.67% more of their shifts in the offensive zone than Vlasic and Braun, per Corsica.

That came in a little over 144 minutes together, so this isn’t an extremely significant sample. But, Braun’s play alongside Dillon will be worth watching, if only to see if the Sharks can afford to lighten Vlasic’s load upon his return.

The Sharks are incredibly dependent upon Vlasic and Braun to draw tough competition in order to free up the rest of the defense. The other two pairings have driven play against weaker competition, but that approach forces the Sharks to soak up a lot of pressure from their opponents’ best players.

If Braun and Dillon demonstrate they’re able to succeed under similar, albeit less difficult circumstances, DeBoer will have more defensive flexibility. It could free up Vlasic to play with Burns, moving an aging Paul Martin into a third pairing role he may be better suited for.

DeBoer, though, clearly trusts Braun and Vlasic with a heavy defensive burden, even as they aren’t driving play. Whether or not he should under those circumstances is another matter entirely, and one that Vlasic’s absence allows him to explore.

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.