Marc-Edouard Vlasic

In praise of Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s been very good for the Sharks this year, though it’s not entirely fair to call this a “breakthrough” campaign. He probably won’t eclipse his career-high in points (36, set in 2008-09) and he’s actually averaging the fewest minutes per game (21:47) of his seven-year career.

To hear Sharks GM Doug Wilson explain it, the man they call “Pickles” has always been great — it’s just that this year, people are finally starting to notice.

“A lot of people don’t see our guys play, but you really appreciate them when you see them day-to-day,” Wilson said, per Sportsnet’s Fan 590. “[Vlasic] might be one of the most fundamentally strong defensemen I’ve seen, probably, in the last 20 years.

“The Olympic team, when they did all their research, when you look at this guy — he was at the top of their list right out of the gate.”

Wilson knows of what he speaks when it comes to playing defense. An eight-time All-Star, Wilson won the 1982 Norris Trophy and, that same year, set Chicago’s still-standing franchise record for goals (39) and points (85) by a blueliner.

Vlasic’s play is a big reason why the Sharks head into tonight’s action atop the Pacific Division with 103 points, two back of NHL-leading St. Louis. His advanced possession statistics rank him among the best in the league (in the case of Corsi Relative, a possession metric relative to the rest of his team, Vlasic’s the best.)

With Canada at the Olympics, Vlasic proved his mettle on a team many considered to be one of the best defensive squads ever. He averaged over 16 minutes a game, provided the perfect foil for partner Drew Doughty and earned high praise from head coach Mike Babcock in the process.

“I just told somebody [Monday] morning that Vlasic is way better than everybody knows,” Babcock said. “He’s a really, really good player; [Drew] Doughty gets to do anything he wants and Vlasic is always in a great spot.

“He’s a good defender, he’s become harder. He used to be a thin kid, now he’s a thick man. He’s hard, he’s smart, he skates, he moves the puck and he’s safe.”

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.