Justin Braun

Sharks must make changes with no Marc-Edouard Vlasic vs. Golden Knights


Sharks must make changes with no Marc-Edouard Vlasic vs. Golden Knights

After two days of mystery, the Sharks have confirmed that defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be out of the lineup for Game 3 after sustaining an undisclosed injury in San Jose's Game 2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Tim Heed will fill in Vlasic's place when the Sharks take the ice at T-Mobile Arena for Sunday night's Stanley Cup playoff game.

So, what exactly do the Sharks have to do to not let the absence affect their game?

As was discussed on NBC Sports California’s live Facebook Q&A earlier Sunday morning, San Jose will benefit if its defense plays a “measured” game. Not just a full 60-minute game, but a consistent one as well.

A prime example of inconsistency is the effort in Game 2: After putting so much energy and emotion into rallying out of a 3-0 hole to tie the score at 3 before the first intermission, the Sharks’ overall game fell back on its heels.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said in his pregame chat with the media that he wants his team to do a better job of “stopping the bleeding” if the Knights grab onto the momentum. Playing a more measured game can help with that.

Vlasic’s absence also will require other blueliners to step up and give the team steady ice time. San Jose relied heavily on Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson after Vlasic exited Game 2, with Burns clocking 28:36 minutes of ice time and Karlsson skating 29:08 minutes. Getting more time from Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun can help keep the Sharks' defensive effort be more consistent.

But DeBoer told the media Sunday morning that he also wants to see Heed and Joakim Ryan “give us minutes” -- certainly a stark contrast to the 7:34-minute outing that Ryan logged in Game 2. Since DeBoer has kept his defensive pairings a bit fluid at the start of this first-round series, there’s a chance Ryan and Heed could be moved around during the game even though Ryan was paired with Burns during practice, while Heed skated with Braun.

However the pairs shake up, San Jose’s defense has to stop Vegas from taking an early lead and building momentum.

“The one thing they’ve been very good at has been grabbing momentum and then building on it,” DeBoer said of the Golden Knights. He said he wants to see his team respond right after the fact, “whether that’s a save, a kill, whatever it is. A shot block, a momentum shift right after.”

[RELATED: How Vlasic injury would affect Sharks in Game 3 vs. Vegas]

San Jose already has its hands full as the Round 1 series shifts buildings. The Sharks had a 1-1-0 regular-season record in the Golden Knights’ home barn, but they went 1-2-0 there during last year’s playoffs and were outscored 15-7. Additionally, the Sharks’ power play, which struggled in Game 2, registered just 18.8 percent in last year’s playoffs, with three goals in 16 opportunities on the man advantage.

On a positive note, however, San Jose’s penalty kill fared well at T-Mobile during last year’s playoffs, functioning at 75 percent.

How Marc-Edouard Vlasic injury would affect Sharks in Game 3 vs. Vegas


How Marc-Edouard Vlasic injury would affect Sharks in Game 3 vs. Vegas

SAN JOSE — Bumps and bruises are something the Sharks are quite accustomed to dealing with, whether in the regular season or a tough playoff series. Heck, San Jose captain Joe Pavelski scored a goal off his face in Game 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, and was ready to go for Game 2 on Friday after spending a few hours in the dentist’s chair in between. 

Now, just as the series shifts to Las Vegas for Games 3 and 4, the injury bug has bitten the Sharks' blue line. While they have the bodies to fill that void, it’s still a mystery as to how exactly they will make up for that absence. 

The status of defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic remains a mystery after he left the ice during the second period of Game 2, a 5-3 loss to the Golden Knights. The exact nature of his injury hasn’t been disclosed, although Vlasic did block a Shea Theodore shot that appeared to hit him in the arm. With Vlasic out of the lineup for the better part of Friday’s game, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer relied heavily on blue-liners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson to pick up the slack. 

DeBoer relied on the strategy during the regular season when San Jose’s lineup sustained its fair share of injuries, and the playoffs are no exception.

“Guys go down in the playoffs,” DeBoer said after Game 2. “We had to have some guys take some extra minute because of that. But you’ve got to be prepared to play short this time of year.”

San Jose’s best blue-liners are used to playing extra minutes to fill in for injured teammates. In a season in which Karlsson, Vlasic, Justin Braun and Radim Simek missed time with various injuries, Burns played 25:06 per game. By the end of the game Friday evening, Burns had registered 28:36 of ice time while Karlsson – in just his third game back from his own injury woes – tallied a whopping 29:08. Keep in mind that San Jose did have eight power-play opportunities, and both players saw plenty of time on the man advantage. 

The question now isn’t so much whether DeBoer will use this same method in Game 3. If Vlasic isn’t able to play in Game 3 and Tim Heed is penciled into the lineup, Burns and Karlsson likely are going to play the bulk of the game. 

But, it's worth pondering whether the Sharks would be better off if other defenesmen also played more. Since Joakim Ryan only skated 7:34 in Game 2, it’s unlikely he’ll skate too much more in Game 3 -- even if Vlasic can't suit up. If the Sharks spend less time on special teams in Game 3, however, giving Braun and Brenden Dillon more playing time could prevent Burns and Karlsson from wearing down. 

[RELATED: Five observations as Sharks-Vegas heads to Sin City]

No matter how the lineup shakes out in Game 3 at T-Mobile Arena, San Jose’s blue line has to start the game off tight in order to make their own job easier. After a strong Game 1 performance, Game 2 on Friday was rife with turnovers and loose play through the neutral zone. A solid start from whoever has those first shifts of the game could make every other Sharks defenseman's job easier.

Of course, we won’t know how the lineup will look until before Game 3 on Sunday. But should Vlasic be out of the lineup on Sunday in Las Vegas, all eyes will be on the defense's ice time. 

Reasons to believe Sharks can defeat Golden Knights in NHL Playoffs

Reasons to believe Sharks can defeat Golden Knights in NHL Playoffs

SAN JOSE -- There was plenty of worry when the Sharks had trouble winning games at the end of their regular season campaign. Even once they had a playoff spot clinched, reoccurring mistakes and concerns over the team’s health loomed. Not to mention knowledge their first-round opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights, had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous year.

But San Jose ended their 2018-19 campaign on a high note, and now, practice for the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are officially underway. Critics across the league may still be picking Vegas, but the Sharks are every bit capable of knocking last year’s Western Conference champion out of the postseason.

First and foremost, the Sharks are finally healthy. Erik Karlsson not only looked strong after rejoining San Jose for the regular-season finale, but he clocked a whopping 22:01 minutes of ice time to boot. Joe Thornton, who missed last year’s playoffs due to a knee injury, is successfully leading the third offensive line at an astounding pace. Even Timo Meier, who missed the regular-season finale against the Avalanche with a suspected wrist injury, is expected to be game-ready for Game 1 at SAP Center on Wednesday evening. As the Sharks have shown during the regular season, they are a dangerous and deep group on the ice when their best players are in their best shape.

The depth a healthy Sharks’ roster brings to the ice is what they need to have success against Marc-Andre Fleury. The netminder missed time late in the regular season and lost his last two starts of his campaign, but San Jose knows he can play to another level once the playoffs start. During the Knights’ unprecedented playoff run last year, he made 453 saves on 490 shots-against. Over two starts against San Jose during the regular season, he registered a .950 save percentage.

“When he plays against us, he seems to be on top of his game,” Justin Braun said of Fleury. “Every chance you get, you’ve got to make count against these guys. I think [the Sharks] know that and they’ll be dialed in.”

Getting dialed in doesn’t just take place on the offensive side of the puck. San Jose’s defense has to buckle down and be darn near flawless against Vegas' potent attack, whether it’s the skilled William Karlsson-led top line or a heavy bottom-six with big players like Alex Tuch and Ryan Reaves. The Sharks already know they have to be on another level defensively, especially after being outscored by Vegas in last year’s playoffs 22-14.

“We scored enough to win, we just gave up too much,” Logan Couture said, recalling last year’s second round matchup with Vegas. “Going into this series, we have to be pretty tight defensively if we want to win it.”

[RELATED: Why Sharks can't start poorly against Golden Knights]

Perhaps one of the most important things the Sharks have going for them is knowing they can’t let Vegas get a rise out of them. The Knights are masters at agitating their opponents -- something the Sharks know quite well from four hard-hitting regular season contests. Committing early on to being disciplined works in San Jose’s favor.

“There are enough guys who have played enough playoff games in here to realize what it takes to win, and sometimes you’ve got to take some hits to make plays and not retaliate,” Logan Couture said. “I believe that’s something we’re capable of doing in here.”

Braun agreed. “You don’t want to be taking penalties or running around doing stupid things just to hit guys,” he summarized. “They’ll take advantage of that. Play hard, but play smart.”

If San Jose can stick to that gameplan and stay healthy, the Sharks should be in very good shape.