Three takeaways: Vlasic's monster game in return to Sharks lineup

Three takeaways: Vlasic's monster game in return to Sharks lineup

EDMONTON – The Sharks improved to a perfect 2-0 against the upstart Oilers on Tuesday night in what was their first of two games this season at the brand new Rogers Place. Mikkel Boedker played a starring role – yes, Mikkel Boedker – in the 5-3 victory. The three takeaways from the game, below…

1 – Boedker’s night

Immediately after Saturday’s Sharks win over Detroit, when Boedker was credited for a goal when a Brent Burns shot deflected in off of his sweater, I asked the winger if he was hopeful that the goals might start coming “in bunches” now.

"They always seem to, in some ways. Got keep going to the right areas, and good things happen,” he said.

His first goal was a direct result of getting to the front of the net, when a deflected puck made its way to his stick just outside of the blue paint. He patiently waited to pick his spot before flicking it through. It was the kind of situation that he might have panicked in and flubbed earlier this season when he was struggling with his game and his confidence.

“His first goal really got us going,” Joe Pavelski said. “It was a nice play by him to wait. There's not much space, and he puts it up there.”

Now with six goals and 12 points in 40 games, Boedker seems to be finding some chemistry with Melker Karlsson on the fourth line, too. If that keeps up, the Sharks should have a dangerous four-line attack.
“He’s a hard-working guy," Boedker said of Karlsson. “He’s simple to play with, and he doesn’t do anything that is not needed. He goes with a purpose, and it’s easy to follow that, and it’s easy to play off of that. [Micheal Haley] today did the same thing, so we were a good line today.”

2 – Vlasic’s return

Marc-Edouard Vlasic not only played for the first time in five games, but he skated for 25:44 – a season high. The Sharks lost defenseman Dylan DeMelo in the second period, so Vlasic and Burns (29:33) saw extended ice time.

Vlasic finished with a pair of assists and a plus-three rating while blocking a game-high seven shots, playing mostly against the Connor McDavid line.

“It's fun playing a fast, skilled team,” Vlasic said. “Had a lot of fun playing against their best line. We got caught a little bit turning the puck over, and when you do that, they made us pay. But other than that, I thought we played well against a very good team.”

Pete DeBoer said: “We probably don’t win without him. [To] sit for as long as he did, played 25 minutes, [seven] blocked shots, two assists. He’s a real important piece for us, obviously. It’s nice to have him back there.”

There was a scary moment late in the second period when Vlasic was caught up high with a stick, but he returned to start the third. Fortunately for him, Jordan Eberle’s blade caught him below his damaged face.

"Spear right in the throat,” Vlasic said. “It’s accidental, but unlucky that this crap keeps happening to me."

3 – Timeout calms the troops

Pete DeBoer obviously holds his players accountable, as evidenced by the numerous healthy scratches this season to important players. But he also holds himself accountable, and several players indicated after the game that DeBoer admitted to them that he should have used his timeout in the disastrous third period against Minnesota last Thursday.

He used it after Edmonton scored a pair of goals in the third to get back into the game, and it had the desired effect as Logan Couture added some important insurance shortly after.

“We talked about it the other day. Pete brought it up to us, maybe he could have used his time out in the Minnesota game,” Pavelski said.

A coach has to balance whether to use the timeout, or save it for a potential coach’s challenge.

“I just felt after what happened the last game when we didn’t use it, that we wanted to,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think it was the difference in the [Edmonton] game, but we kind of regrouped and settled in, and that next goal was obviously a big one.”

Sharks recall defenseman after Erik Karlsson was late scratch vs. Lightning


Sharks recall defenseman after Erik Karlsson was late scratch vs. Lightning

One day after All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson was a late scratch against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sharks placed another important blueliner on injured reserve. 

Marc-Edouard Vlasic headed to IR, and the Sharks recalled defenseman Jacob Middleton to take his place on the active roster. Vlasic practiced with the team Friday, but now will not play in San Jose's final two games before the All-Star break.

Middleton's presence indicates Karlsson might not be good to go, either. The Sharks have carried eight defenseman on their roster all season, and Middleton's recall gives San Jose two healthy defenseman who can take Karlsson's place in the lineup. Joakim Ryan did so in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Karlsson's undisclosed injury also might place his status for Saturday's NHL All-Star Game in San Jose in doubt, assuming he does not play Monday against the Florida Panthers and/or Tuesday against the Washington Capitals. He did not play in the final six-and-a-half minutes of the Sharks' win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Tuesday, and reportedly was limping after their loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday. 

Vlasic has not played since Jan. 2, when he left in the final 10 minutes of the Sharks' 5-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told reporters Friday that Vlasic was getting closer to a return, but the team did not want to risk further injury. 

“We’re not going to put him out there and get him reinjured,” DeBoer said at the time. “Especially with the 10-day break on the horizon. But if he can help us and get in there, then he will.”

Middleton made his NHL debut on Jan. 5 against the Lightning. He had just 5:02 of ice time in that game, and played three games with the AHL San Jose Barracuda after the Sharks activated defenseman Justin Braun from IR.

Scoreboard not indicative of Sharks' effort in 6-3 loss vs. Lightning

Scoreboard not indicative of Sharks' effort in 6-3 loss vs. Lightning

After a hot streak that churned out seven consecutive wins, the Sharks have lost two games in a row. But don’t be mistaken -- the losses against the Arizona Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning were definitely not the same.

Wednesday’s contest against the Coyotes was one of San Jose’s least inspired games of the season. Saturday’s contest against the Lightning, on the other hand, was a significantly better effort. 

“I didn’t think the score was super indicative of how the game went,” Evander Kane told the media after the 6-3 defeat. “I thought we carried the play, to be honest, for most of the game.”

He wasn’t wrong. San Jose pushed the tempo for a good chunk of Saturday’s game before Tampa Bay gained some late momentum and built up their lead. While the Sharks fell to the Lightning, there were positives -- as well as lessons learned -- they can take away from a season series that consisted of two playoff-caliber games.

“I thought it was a little bit of an opportunistic game for them,” Kane continued. “Every time they got an opportunity, it seemed (like it went) in the back of our net.”

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed. “We made some mistakes, I think mental mistakes tonight, taking some penalties when we didn’t need to,” he explained. “A couple decisions you can’t make against an opportunistic team like that. Having said that, I thought when we had it at 2-2 we had a couple opportunities to grab control of the game.”

The Sharks certainly showed they hadn’t lost their composure when the Lightning jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Thanks to a two-goal effort from Kane -- one at the end of the first frame and another to open up the second -- San Jose was able to tie things up. In the end, they outshot Tampa Bay and were better in the faceoff circle. 

However, the Sharks also got into some penalty trouble which gave the Bolts the opportunities they needed to retake the lead and create some breathing room on the scoreboard. A tandem of penalties gave Tampa Bay just 17 seconds of five-on-three power play time, but it was enough time for them to gain momentum, and reigning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman found the back of the net during the resulting five-on-four.

Hedman’s marker gave the Lightning another two-goal lead, which was easily the turning point in the game. The Sharks kept pushing but couldn’t beat Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. “We had some chances that didn’t go in,” Kane admitted.

Clearly, this was a game the Sharks never felt out of, especially since they defeated the Lightning in San Jose just a couple weeks ago. There was some speculation that Erik Karlsson’s sudden absence from the lineup was a factor. Kane pointed out when asked about it by the press that the Sharks expected to put up a winning effort nonetheless.

[RELATED: Sharks without Karlsson (late scratch) vs. Lightning]

“It’s a loss but it’s not an excuse,” Kane said. “We played with three guys who are normally not in the lineup against [Tampa] at home and beat them.”

The Sharks now have to take what they learned from the loss and apply it to the last two games of this road trip. They have yet another back-to-back -- this time against Florida and Washington -- before the All-Star break.

“We’ll move on and regroup and get ready for Monday,” Kane said.