Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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Previewing the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The Sharks lost a lot this offseason, with Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist, and Justin Braun all moving on to new teams. That is a lot of talent (and goals) leaving, and while Braun wasn’t one of their top defenders he still played 20 minutes per night. That is a lot to replace in one summer and it would be awfully difficult to say right now that the Sharks, on paper, are better than the team that ended the 2018-19 season. They are still really good, but they have a lot to replace.

Strengths: It is the defense. How can it not be the defense? The Sharks have two Norris Trophy winners in Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns leading their blue line, and both look to be contenders for the award for the foreseeable future. Their No. 3 defender, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, is no slouch either. That is as good of a top-three as you will find anywhere in the NHL. The biggest key will be Karlsson staying healthy as he has missed 40 games over the past two years, including 29 a year ago.

Weaknesses: Until they show otherwise this team’s Achilles Heel will be in net. The Martin Jones and Aaron Dell duo was the league’s worst a year ago, and it remains a testament to how great the rest of the team was in front of them that the goaltending performance did not completely ruin their chances. Teams that get the level of goaltending the Sharks received tend to miss the playoffs. The Sharks not only still made the playoffs, they were a contender. With the team around them looking a little thinner in some areas it just puts even more pressure on the goalies to perform.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor | Three Questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): The most vulnerable coaches at the start of each season tend to be the ones that have been with a team for a few years, have high expectations, and have not yet won it all. That pretty much describes Pete DeBoer’s situation in San Jose. He would not seem to be in immediate danger, but if the Sharks get off a slow start or regress this season he might start to feel a little more pressure, if for no other reason than the old “shake things up” coaching change. He is a 6 out of 10 on the hot seat rating.

Three most fascinating players: Jones, Joe Thornton, and Kevin Labanc.

There is no way to sugarcoat Jones’ performance a year ago — it was bad. But for as bad as it was, his overall track record in the NHL is a mostly solid one. He backstopped the Sharks to a Stanley Cup Final appearance a few years ago, he has received Vezina Trophy votes in two different seasons (finishing 6th and 7th) and his overall numbers are at least a league average level. He is definitely capable of better than he showed. Was last year a fluke? Or was it a sign of things to come for him in the Sharks’ net? Not to put too much pressure on one player, but the answer to those questions will play a big role in what the Sharks are capable of this season.

Thornton is back for yet another run at that elusive championship. He may be 40 years old, but he showed a year ago he can still play a big role for a contender with 50 points and dominant possession numbers. The Sharks lost a lot over the summer, but being able to bring back Karlsson and Thornton were big wins for the front office.

Labanc has shown steady improvement every year he has been in the NHL and is coming off an impressive 56-point season that made him one of the team’s top scorers. That is why it was so surprising to see him sign a one-year, bargain contract as a restricted free agent this summer. It was a big bet on himself and if he can continue to develop into a top-line scorer he should be in line for a significant contract this summer. With Pavelsi, Donskoi, and Nyquist out the door he should get a pretty big opportunity to play an increased role in the offense.

Playoffs or lottery: They may not be as strong on paper, but this is still not only a playoff team, it is one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the league. They lost some talent, but they still have Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, and Labanc up front, they have an elite defense, and while the goaltending is a question mark and a potential problem, Jones’ track record in the NHL suggests he should be better. Still one of the best teams in the Western Conference and the entire league.

MORE:
Sharks open camp with new captain after Pavelski’s departure
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins advance; Avalanche survive

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  • The Blue Jackets were able to sweep the Lightning in front of their home fans in Columbus. Now their season is over as they fell in Game 6 against Boston at that same arena. The Bruins move on to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
  • While the East half of Round 3 is set, the West side is still totally unsettled. The Sharks didn’t fall easily on Monday, but the Avalanche grabbed a gutsy OT win to send this series to Game 7.

Bruins 3, Blue Jackets 0 (Boston wins series 4-2)

Charlie McAvoy only receiving a two-minute minor for his hit on Josh Anderson was a big part of the Game 6 storyline, no doubt. But, really, Tuukka Rask strangled any chance for the Blue Jackets to rally around the anger of not getting a call they believed they deserved. David Krejci managed the lone goal of the first 40 minutes of this one, and Sergei Bobrovsky allowed two quick goals in the third period to sap any last-minute drama. Columbus has some things to build on going forward, even with Bobrovsky and others possibly leaving, but the Bruins get the upper hand.

Avalanche 4, Sharks 3 (Series tied 3-3; Game 7 airs at 9 pm. ET on Wednesday on NBCSN [stream here])

This was a fascinating game. The Avs managed leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, yet the Sharks just kept fighting back. When Game 6 went to overtime, there was at least a faint feeling that San Jose was going to stun Colorado in its own building. Instead, Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime game-winner, forcing a Game 7 in this series. Two unsung heroes loomed large in Game 6, and they follow Rask in the three stars below …

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask

Rask already turned heads with strong work during the Bruins’ Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets, but Game 6 might count as his best performance yet. While Rask enjoyed a little bit of luck from posts hitting his posts, he was still incredibly sharp for Boston, and thus outrageously frustrating for the Blue Jackets. Rask generated a 39-save shutout to close out Columbus, and the occasionally-criticized goalie is cementing his status as a true difference-maker for a Bruins team eyeing a glorious run.

2. J.T. Compher

Heading into Game 6 for Colorado, Compher had one three-point game to his career, yet he scored two goals and one assist at the most crucial time, with the Avalanche facing down elimination. Check these highlights and decide for yourself: is his assist to Tyson Jost to open scoring the best of Compher’s three points, or was it the 3-2 goal where he showed some pretty impressive hands?

That 3-2 goal sure seemed like it would be the game-winner, except an equally unlikely hero forced the issue for San Jose …

3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Again, Vlasic can be a “likely” hero for his work in his own end. And, really, Vlasic was his usual, defensive-defenseman-dynamo self against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, his most frequent opponents in Game 6. Yes, Landeskog scored an overtime game-winner, but generally speaking, the Sharks did a great job of limiting that dangerous trio’s chances. Vlasic was a big part of that.

Few would have expected Vlasic to be so prolific offensively, though.

Vlasic scored two goals for the Sharks while firing three SOG, blocking four shots, and managing two takeaways in Game 6. Impressive stuff, even if San Jose couldn’t quite close out Colorado.

Oh, by the way, this is only the second two-goal game of Vlasic’s career, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Again, it was a rare night.

Factoids

TUESDAY’S GAME 7

Game 7: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues (series tied 3-3; 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN [stream here])

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Compher, Avalanche force Game 7 against Sharks

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Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime-clincher in Game 6 to push the San Jose Sharks to a Game 7. Leave it to the Avs’ captain to cap a night that was often dominated by unsung heroes.

J.T. Compher scored two goals and one assist in Game 6, nearly lined up Erik Karlsson for a big hit, and generally played the game of his life. To give you an idea of how rare nights like these have been for Compher at this level, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes that Compher had just one three-point game in his entire NHL career coming into Game 6.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a bigger name than Compher, what with winning a gold medal for Canada and frequently being named as one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL, at least before slowing down just a bit lately. Still, you wouldn’t expect Vlasic to score two goals in a single contest, but that’s exactly what he did in Game 6, including the tally that sent things to OT.

Landeskog didn’t need much time to score in overtime:

The Avalanche built leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, but the Sharks kept finding ways to tie things up. Colorado didn’t flinch in the face of sudden death, however, and the Avs thus avoided elimination.

There are some lingering storylines and situations to monitor heading into Game 7, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBCSN; stream here).

  • Will Nathan MacKinnon be able to put his frustrations behind him? The Avs superstar’s scoring struggles have gotten to him at times, as he’s looked furious on the bench and leaving the ice.
  • Is Mikko Rantanen really OK? He returned to Game 6 after a hard hit from Brent Burns, but Rantanen’s mobility looked pretty limited when he returns.
  • Can the Avalanche contain Timo Meier? While Meier was only credited with an assist in Game 6, he created havoc on all of the Sharks’ goals, using his creativity and physicality to really make life miserable for Colorado.

While the 2019 Eastern Conference Final is set at Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, both West series are heading to Game 7’s, as Dallas Stars – St. Louis Blues is also going the distance. The Avalanche are generally a younger, less proven team than the Sharks, but they’re absolutely playing like they belong. Even the guys not named Nathan MacKinnon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sharks’ Vlasic looking for apology from NHL

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Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is looking for an apology from the NHL.

Why is he looking for an apology? Well, there’s probably two reasons for this.

First, he felt like icing should’ve been called moments before Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie scored in Game 2 to give Colorado a 2-1 lead late in the second period. Secondly, he might be a little annoyed because the NHL made a point to apologize to the Vegas Golden Knights after they handed the Sharks a five-minute power-play in Game 7 of their first-round series.

But does Vlasic have a case here?

As you can tell from the above video, Vlasic and Avs forward Mikko Rantanen are racing back into Sharks territory for the loose puck. Vlasic beats Rantanen to the dots, but that isn’t the criteria for judging icing.

Here’s what rule 81 in the NHL rulebook has to say about icing:

The Linesman must first determine that the puck will cross the goal line. Once the Linesman determines that the puck will cross the goal line, icing is completed upon the determination as to which player (attacking or defending) would first touch the puck. This decision by the Linesman will be made by no later than the instant the first player reaches the end zone faceoff dots with the player’s skate being the determining factor.

The “would first touch the puck” part is the key here. Being the first player to the dot doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the call will go your way. If we apply the rule in this case, it’s still a close call but the official decides to give Rantanen the benefit of the doubt because he’s getting to the dots with a full head of steam.

“It was the exact same as the icing here the other night, when [Erik] Karlsson had the inside track on [J.T.] Compher,” Avs head coach Jared Bednar said after the game, per ESPN. “They’re in a race. They blow it down for icing because Karlsson had the inside path. To me, on this one, I’m watching Mikko [Rantanen] go up the ice, he’s got a head of steam, he’s getting to the right area, he’s got the inside path on Vlasic on the post. It looks to me like Mikko’s going to get their first, so they let it go. To me, it’s similar plays: The guy on the inside got the call. One was against us. One was in our favor.”

Whether you agree with the call or not, you can’t dispute that this is a judgement call that needs to be made in a split second. Whatever happens below the dots almost becomes irrelevant because the call needs to be made once the players get to the dot on the ice. At that moment, the official decided that Rantanen was close enough to negate the icing.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Healthy Vlasic making huge impact for Sharks

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The Vegas Golden Knights haven’t found getting shots on Martin Jones to be a particularly difficult task over the last two games. The problem is that Good Martin Jones returned in time for the San Jose Sharks to help force a Game 7 Tuesday night at SAP Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

In Game 5 the Golden Knights fired 32 shots towards Jones, only beating him twice during a 5-2 defeat. During Sunday’s double overtime loss, Vegas outshot San Jose 59-29 and couldn’t put the puck past Jones more than once. They’ve dominated possession in the last two games (60-39 Corsi percentage advantage at 5-on-5) but goaltending, which was the Sharks’ Achilles heel earlier in the series, has rebounded and brought us to this Game 7 scenario.

The other problem for their Golden Knights? Their dynamic second line has been held in check.

Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty were extraordinary during the first four games of the series. The trio combined for 12 goals and 28 points, 10 of which came on the power play. They were unstoppable. Then Marc-Edouard Vlasic got healthy.

The Sharks defenseman, who was injured early in Game 2, returned for Game 5, the start of the San Jose comeback. Vlasic has spent a lot of time against that Golden Knights’ second line, and done a good job of limiting their chances. The trio is pointless in the last two games, managing a combined seven shots at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick.

“Shutting down the top line. That’s my job,” Vlasic said. “You look at the last two games, if I keep them off the scoresheet I did my job.”

Game 5 was a good example of what Vlasic can do when fully healthy. He broke up a 3-on-1 chance for the Golden Knights in the second period with the score tied 1-1 and later sent a one-touch pass to Tomas Hertl out of the Sharks’ zone in double OT, which resulted in the winning goal.

“He’s just always in the right place at the right time,” Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, who’s been a consistent partner of Vlasic’s, told Pro Hockey Talk earlier this season. “He’s got one of the best sticks in the league knocking down passes, breaking up plays. He’s got the ability to jump up into the play and finish. It’s what you want in a partner. He’s never outside of his game, pushing the pace too much. He makes every guy around him better.”

Vlasic has been an underrated defenseman for most of his career. He’s averaged 32 points a season through 965 NHL games and been a consistent positive possession player. Despite strong numbers at both ends of the ice, he’s never been a finalist for the Norris Trophy having finished 12th, 20th, 21st, and 11th in the voting in four of the past five seasons.

While 2018-19 was a tale of two halves for Vlasic, he’s returned to good form of late, which is something the Sharks have needed from their blue line.

Vlasic doesn’t stand out like a Brent Burns or an Erik Karlsson, he just does his job steadily, and Braun gets a close-up view of  those little impactful things that can easily missed.

“Just how many plays he breaks up,” said Braun. “Two-on-one, in the corner, shutting guys down. You’re talking about the best players in the world that can’t get away from him. He’s keeping them off the scoresheet every night. That’s the biggest thing. You don’t really see who’s breaking up the passes every time, but he’s right there. Good gap, making guys dump it in, you don’t notice that on TV.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.