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.

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

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USATSI

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.

 

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

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USATSI

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

Defenseman Paul Martin cleared waivers on Tuesday, and will now get a chance to play regularly with the San Jose Barracuda as his agent and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson attempt to find a trade destination. While he’s in the minors, his former partner, Brent Burns, is now playing with the man that essentially took his spot.

Joakim Ryan has been the reigning Norris Trophy winner's most common defensive partner this year, and the rookie moved back to Burns’ side late in San Jose’s win over Arizona on Saturday. He skated alongside him again during Monday’s win in Los Angeles, and is set to do the same Tuesday against the Coyotes.

In just over 28-and-a-half minutes together at five-on-five play over the last two games, the Sharks controlled 57.89 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. They got favorable assignments, starting 73.33 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite this, the pair have given up a worrisome amount of scoring chances in their short reunion. 

In parts of two games together, the Sharks have attempted 46.67 percent of the scoring chances, and 38.46 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with the Wookiee and the rookie on the ice. That's eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons, and points to a larger concern. 

No matter who Burns has played with the Sharks have been largely out-chanced. With Burns on the ice this season, the Sharks have controlled 49.94 percent and 44.52 percent of the scoring chances and the high-danger chances, respectively, with a team-high 65.49 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts starting in the offensive zone.

When Burns has played with Ryan all season, the Sharks have controlled 52.05 percent of the scoring chances, but just 47.97 percent of the high-danger chances, despite starting 65.53 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. With Dillon, Burns' second-most common defensive partner, the Sharks have lost the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance battle, despite starting in the offensive zone 63.35 percent of the time.

It should be no surprise the Sharks have been badly outscored with Burns on the ice at even strength, to the tune of 17 goals for and 38 goals against. With all due respect to Fetty Wap, you don't want to see that. 

No matter who he's played with, Burns has struggled defensively in 2017-18. The problem is that his partners haven't struggled nearly as much without him.

Without Burns, Ryan's shot attempt numbers are worse, but his scoring chance numbers are much better (57.55 percent of the scoring chances, 55 percent of the high-danger chances), despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone (51.39 percent offensive zone starts). Dillon's possession numbers, as well as his scoring chance numbers, are also better away from Burns, and he too starts more shifts away from the offensive zone. 

As a result, it'd be fair to question why the Sharks waived Martin. After all, he was Burns' partner as he ascended into the league's upper echelon of defenseman, right?

But Burns and Martin were ineffective together in limited minutes this season, getting out-possessed, outshot, and out-chanced despite favorable deployment (61.11 percent offensive zone starts). Plus, Burns was actually better away from Martin over the last two seasons, as the Sharks controlled a greater share of the shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances when Burns played with a different partner. 

Perhaps, with more time together, Burns and Martin would have rounded into their defensive form of the last two seasons. Now, one of Martin's skates is out the door, and it's foolish to expect significant improvement from two players on the wrong side of 30 regardless.

Paul Martin's imminent departure, then, should send a clear message to Brent Burns. His security blanket is gone, and it's on him alone to plug the holes in his defensive game.