SAN JOSE – Sharks fans have likely been on pins and needles the last couple of days, wondering what shape San Jose’s defense will be in when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday evening. While there are some encouraging signs, we likely won’t know until game day what Team Teal’s d-corps will look like.
Defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, and Radim Simek have not been officially ruled out of Saturday’s game against the league-leading Bolts, although their status still remains up in the air. Both Vlasic and Simek took the ice at Friday’s optional morning skate, while Braun was absent.
It was the first time Simek has skated since he sustained a concussion on December 31 against the Calgary Flames. The Czech rookie told reporters after practice he “feels better and better every day” after being hit by Calgary winger Sam Bennett with 20 seconds left in regulation during that game. But when asked if he was ready to suit up on Saturday, he politely told the media that decision was up to the coaching staff.
Preparing to battle the Bolts
However healthy the Sharks’ blue line is come Saturday, they know what lies ahead of them as they ready to host one of the league’s elite offenses. Tampa Bay visits with the best record in the NHL and a power play that towers above everyone else’s. It’s going to be a defensive challenge up and down the lineup for the Sharks – and one they’re looking forward to.
“I think it’s going to be a good game,” Brent Burns said on Friday. “I think it’s a good measuring stick for us to see how we stack up.”
San Jose is coming off a 5-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche, facing off against one of the best offensive lines in the NHL with Nathan MacKinnon at the helm. Even with the win, however, the Sharks want to play a tighter defensive game against Tampa Bay.
“There are a lot of things we can do better defensively,” Joonas Donskoi said. “For example, last game I think we gave up too many goals. Tomorrow’s going to be a big task for us, so we need to play defense for a full 60 minutes. But it’s going to be a fun one.”
Donskoi & Co. continue trending upward
Speaking of Donskoi, he and his linemates in San Jose’s third offensive combination have been on fire over the last stretch of games. That combo consisting of Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, and Evander Kane has tallied a collective 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) over the Sharks’ last five contests.
“It’s been clicking, I don’t know why but it’s been clicking,” Donskoi told NBC Sports California. “I feel like we all play the game the same way. Work hard but keep it simple. And win battles.”
Donskoi himself has contributed six of those points, including a gorgeous wraparound goal against the Avalanche just a couple days ago. Between goals scored on November 20 and December 20, the Finnish forward tallied three assists but didn’t find the back of the net. Now, he has four goals in three games.
“It’s weird,” Donskoi explained, “when you get one (goal) you get this confidence, and then it starts bouncing your way.
“Sometimes, it’s just the small things that click when you score a couple goals and you start to feel good. I hope it keeps going.”
San Jose would no doubt love for Donskoi’s goal streak to continue against Tampa Bay. He has, for the record, tallied one goal and two assists against the Lightning going back to the start of the 2016 season.