SAN JOSE – It’s tough timing for the Sharks to lose one of their top four defensemen.
Justin Braun will miss Wednesday’s game against the offensively gifted Blackhawks with an upper body injury according to coach Pete DeBoer, who considers the 28-year-old day-to-day.
Braun was dealing with an injury on the Sharks’ recently completed six-game road trip but “wasn’t in a good enough place when we got back here for him to play tonight,” DeBoer said.
Taking Braun’s vacated spot alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be Brenden Dillon. Paul Martin and Brent Burns remain attached at the hip, while Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson will form an inexperienced third pair.
“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” DeBoer said. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”
Vlasic played more than 24 minutes in each of the six games on the road trip, maxing out at 28:55 in a regulation win in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Dillon, who has been primarily on the third defense pair all season, is looking forward to skating with the defensive stalwart.
“If there’s one guy that’s the easiest to play with, I’d have to say Eddy,” Dillon said. “He’s a guy I watch in practice every day, and games every day. I try to learn from him and replicate him if I can.”
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Vlasic and Dillon will likely see a healthy dose of the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane. The exhilarating Chicago forward brings a 16-game point streak into tonight’s game, including 10 goals over that span, and is tied for the league lead in scoring with 32 points.
“I don’t know if there’s a guy hotter than him right now,” Dillon said. “He’s been really good. Obviously real dangerous with the puck, and these guys look to get it to him, and right behind him is Jonathan Toews. I don’t even know if I want to say behind him, because they’re both tremendous players.”
Joe Pavelski said: “When [Kane] gets that puck, he’s that dynamic where he creates some offense and he opens that up for some other guys. … You have to start with the puck and discourage him in other areas. Stay out of the penalty box. But, he’s a good player. He's going to create some chances."
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The Sharks most recent homestand wasn’t a productive one, as they lost three of four games with just two out of a possible eight points.
They are 3-5-0 at SAP Center, one year after finishing with more losses in their building than wins (19-17-5).
“Sometimes talking about it doesn't help. I think for us it's about bringing our road mentality – we're a very good road team – home,” said DeBoer, whose club is 10-3-0 on the road for an NHL-best 20 points.
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Flying under the radar a bit lately is forward Joonas Donskoi, who brings a four-game point streak into Wednesday’s game. The second line left wing, Donskoi has 3 goals, 7 points and a +6 rating in his first 16 NHL games.
DeBoer is particularly with Donskoi’s consistency, always a big hurdle for a first-year NHL player.
“There's been no drop-off,” DeBoer said. “A young guy sometimes comes in, you see a couple good games and then a couple really poor games. He's very defensively responsible and competes really hard every game. I don't see that changing. I think he's a very good NHL player."