How Sharks' defense has struggled without Marc-Edouard Vlasic vs. Vegas

How Sharks' defense has struggled without Marc-Edouard Vlasic vs. Vegas

Since losing Marc-Edouard Vlasic to an undisclosed injury in Game 2 of their first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights, the Sharks haven't been the same in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Vlasic left the ice with 18:54 remaining in the second period that night, and did not return after Shea Theodore's shot hit the Sharks defenseman up high. Mark Stone scored Vegas' game-winning goal 25 seconds later, and it's been all Vegas since. 

In Vlasic's absence, the Sharks have been out-scored 13-3 over the last eight periods of this best-of-seven series, including a 5-0 loss to the Golden Knights in Game 4 on Tuesday. Before Vlasic's injury, they held a 6-5 edge (excluding an empty-net goal) in the first four periods. In 5-on-5 situations, the Knights have generated 25 high-danger chances to the Sharks' 17 since Vlasic went down. 

"There are times when you have to fight through it, and you've heard the clichés [like] 'next man up,'" said Curtis Brown, an NBC Sports California analyst and former Sharks winger (2004; 2006-08). "But, in all honesty, that's very difficult when you're talking about world-class players. You only have the ability to have so many, and the next player up typically is somebody that doesn't have the same experience, most times the same ability, right? So, you're playing somewhat short-handed."

It'd be too simple to chalk up the Sharks facing elimination in Game 5 on Friday to Vlasic's absence. Starting goaltender Martin Jones has been pulled in two of his last three games, and has an .838 save percentage on the series. Plus, Joakim Ryan -- pressed into a larger role -- and Tim Heed -- pressed into the lineup -- have been solid in the last two games. 

But Vlasic's absence has put additional strain on the Sharks' other top defensemen, and they have struggled. Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson were individually beaten on Vegas' second and fourth goals on Tuesday, respectively. 

Karlsson, who missed 27 of San Jose's last 33 games of the regular season due to injury, has not looked like himself since a strong start in Game 1. With him on the ice at full strength the last three games, the Sharks have allowed 12 high-danger chances and generated eight. Burns, who was Vlasic's primary defensive partner in the series at 5-on-5 before the injury, has been on the ice for 14 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 compared to 11 for when he's skated without Vlasic this series. 

With Karlsson not looking 100 percent, the job of a defense corps that's already missing Vlasic and top-six blue-liner Radim Simek (recovering from March knee surgery) becomes even harder, according to Brown. 

"I can only recall what it meant to me when [I was] playing, and you want to have -- if at all possible -- your best chips," Brown said. "And ultimately right now, they don't have that."

[RELATED: Sharks' frustration with Fleury evident after Game 4 loss]

Vlasic did not practice prior to Games 3 and 4, and it remains to be seen if he will practice when the Sharks return to San Jose on Wednesday, let alone be available when they face elimination in Game 5 on Thursday night. The Sharks could certainly use him then, even as they'll have their hands full fixing their game in other areas. 

How Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues forwards bested Sharks in West finals


How Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues forwards bested Sharks in West finals

Vladimir Tarasenko heated up at just the wrong time for the Sharks. 

The St. Louis Blues winger picked up eight points (three goals, five assists) in their six-game Western Conference final win over San Jose, including the game-winning power-play goal in a 5-1 win in Tuesday's Game 6 at Enterprise Center. Tarasenko led all players in the best-of-seven series with his scoring output, but the Sharks' problems did not stop with the 27-year-old in the conference final. 

"I think what made the St. Louis Blues successful wasn't just Vladimir Tarasenko, it was the production of every line," NBC Sports California guest analyst Kendall Coyne Schofield said after Game 6 on Tuesday. " ... I think a forward on every line had a point tonight. So, every line produced and that's not easy to do. It's going to take a complete team to get to the Stanley Cup Final, and I think that's what St. Louis did during this series."

Two of St. Louis' five goals Tuesday were scored in 5-on-5 situations, but the Blues got contributions from up and down their lineup. David Perron opened the scoring 92 seconds into the contest, while Tarasenko doubled the St. Louis lead just shy of 15 minutes later. Brayden Schenn, Tarasenko's linemate, answered Dylan Gambrell's first career NHL goal with another power-play tally. Tyler Bozak, normally the team's third-line center, was credited with the Blues' fourth goal after his pass deflected off of a defending Gustav Nyquist's stick. St. Louis' fourth line, after being a thorn in San Jose's side all series, left no doubt with an empty-netter with 2:15 remaining in regulation. 

Twelve forwards suited up for the Blues in the Western Conference final, and all but one ended the series with multiple points. The Sharks, by contrast, only had six forwards record at least two points. Four more scored one, and four didn't score at all. 

It didn't help the Sharks on Tuesday that they were without one of those multi-point forwards (Joe Pavelski), as well as one who was red-hot entering the conference final yet still looking for his second point against the Blues (Tomas Hertl). Despite that, San Jose created more high-danger chances at full strength in regulation (11) than in any other game this series, although six came as the Sharks attempted to climb out of a two-goal hole in the third period. 

That didn't translate into goals, Coyne Schofield said, because of what the Blues' defensemen did. 

"I thought they did a really good job boxing out, not allowing second opportunities, allowing Jordan Binnington to see the pucks and ultimately slow down the San Jose offense," she said. "A San Jose offense that was injured, that wasn't complete and [was] trying to string together lines and string together offense in any way they can when, on the other isde of things, the Blues were clicking on all cylinders."

[RELATED: Sharks expecting offseason of change after falling short]

The Blues clicked up front for much of the series. Only two St. Louis forwards (Perron and Ryan O'Reilly) were on the ice for more expected goals-against than for in 5-on-5 situations, according to Natural Stat Trick, and only one (Robert Thomas) was on the ice for more goals-against than for. 

In large part because of that edge up front, the Blues will play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Memorial Day and the Sharks will pack up for the summer beforehand. 

NHL rumors: Sharks' Erik Karlsson expected to be pursued by Rangers


NHL rumors: Sharks' Erik Karlsson expected to be pursued by Rangers

Erik Karlsson was not on the ice for the final game of the Sharks' season.

As a pending unrestricted free agent, there's a decent chance he won't participate in their next game, either.

As soon as the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6 of the Western Conference final Tuesday night, their offseason began. And what an important offseason it will be.

San Jose has numerous players destined to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, including Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, but arguably none bigger than Karlsson, whom the Sharks acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators just prior to the start of the season.

As one of the very best defensemen in the NHL, Karlsson will have no shortage of suitors around the league. The Sharks will certainly be considered among the favorites to retain his services and sign him to a long-term contract, but they won't be alone.

In fact, a new report suggests the New York Rangers could be a major factor.

"Scuttlebutt around the organization is that (Karlsson) likes the Sharks and the Bay Area," ESPN's Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters wrote following San Jose's Game 6 loss, "yet there has always been speculation that he could return back east -- the loudest chatter during the playoffs was a potential match with old friend Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. Needless to say, the 28-year-old remains the elite of the elite when he's healthy, and would be a foundational asset for the Sharks. But after the playoffs, his health can't be trusted or assumed."

As evidenced in the end, Karlsson's health was an issue all throughout the season. "Really, we had him healthy for six weeks and dialed in," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters following the defeat.

Still, those six weeks were awfully impressive, and even at less than 100 percent, Karlsson was arguably the Sharks' best player when he was on the ice in the playoffs, at least before aggravating whatever kept him out of Game 6. There's no denying his ability, and even with the injury history, he's the kind of talent any team would love to have on their roster.

[RELATED: Sharks expecting offseason of change after falling short]

The playoff run can't make the Sharks more confident in Karlsson's ability to stay healthy. But it proved enough that they can't afford to let him get away, regardless of how costly he is certain to be.