Brazil: The Sharks' dilemma on defense

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Brazil: The Sharks' dilemma on defense

Sept. 12, 2011

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Just how good a job did Sharks GM Doug Wilson do bolstering up his defensive corps this summer? San Jose now has more eligible defensemen than the team can or likely will dress on an every-night basis. Here's how the depth shakes out on the roster:

PLAYER HEIGHTWEIGHT AGE SHOOTS 22 Dan Boyle 5'11", 190lbs 35 Right 61 Justin Braun 6'2", 205lbs 24 right 88 Brent Burns 6'5", 219lbs 26 Right 60 Jason Demers 6'1", 195lbs 23 Right 3 Douglas Murray 6'3", 240lbs 31 Left 2 Jim Vandermeer 6'1", 210lbs 31 Left 44 Marc-Edourard Vlasic 6'1", 200lbs 24 Left 5 Colin White 6'4", 215lbs 33 LeftAnd here's how many predict the pairings will look:Boyle Murray - The perfect example of 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. These two have been virtually inseparable partners for the last couple seasons as San Jose's top pair, in terms of ice time and matchups. The offensively enabled Boyle, matched with the defensive minded Murray also offer the variety of one left, and one right handed shot. Camp will sort itself out, but change is not expected with these two.Vlasic Burns - If BoyleMurray are 1, then this pair is likely to be 1A. The newly acquired Burns is everybody's early pick to be paired with Vlasic, for a multitude of reasons.
First: Burns is of similar offensive tendency to Boyle, in jumping into plays and joining the rush. Whereas Vlasic is more likely to stay-at-home, playing a responsible defensive game. This is a nice mix of yin and yang for the new teammates.
Second: You have natural right-and-left defensemen, as the two each shoot from different sides.
Third: Each of these players is tied to multiple year contracts with the Sharks... meaning they have the potential to become long-term partners, which may be a good reason to test their chemistry together, as soon as possible.But here's where it gets dicey... since San Jose isn't likely to dress 7 defensemen on a regular basis, we are left with 4 more quality NHL players... and only 2 positions to be filled in the starting lineup each night.Jason Demers is likely to be a top candidate on the 3rd pair. He had a solid last season, and was truly (and noticeably) missed in the entire Vancouver series after suffering a high ankle sprain against Detroit. Last year, Demers averaged 19:29 per game (9th highest of all skaters), including an average of 2:11 on the Power Play. Colin White would be a good partner for Demers, for all the same reasons we like the previously mentioned pairs... OffensiveDefensive, RightyLefty. He poses intimidating size and strength, which the Sharks have recently needed more of on the blue line. He is also a highly touted and respected veteran who could provide solid mentorship to the up and coming Demers.But it's hard to exclude Jim Vandermeer, a reliable and gritty veteran who in 62 games last year tallied 122 hits and 78 blocked shots with Edmonton. Not to forget super sophomore Justin Braun either, who played in 28 games last year, is a prized right-handed shot, and showed tremendous upside in terms of his NHL potential. Coming into last season, either of these players would have been considered shoe-ins to San Jose's roster, with their current credentials. A good indication of just how thick the competition is this time around.This is the dilemma, but a great one to have for Wilson, and Head Coach Todd McLellan. Too many options will likely prove to be a considerable benefit, when you consider injuries, slumps, and the ruts a team is bound to endure over the course of an 82 game regular season.Follow Brodie in real time on Twitter: @BrodieBrazilCSN

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

SAN JOSE – In desperate need of a win and without arguably their best forward over the past two months, the Sharks found a way to get past the New York Rangers, 5-4, in what was – from a purely entertainment standpoint – one of the best games of the season. Let’s dig a little deeper on what is a much happier morning in Sharks-land with our three takeaways…

1 – Tierney takes over

While several of the Sharks depth players contributed, no one was better than fourth line center Chris Tierney, who had a pair of goals, a plus-three rating, and five shots (tied with David Schlemko for the team lead).

His game-tying goal late in the third period was huge, and he credited Jannik Hansen getting him the puck, as Hansen made a slick play on the Mikkel Boedker rebound. Interestingly, Pete DeBoer put those three players out as a line for the first time that night, with less than three minutes to go in regulation.

"I think it was Jannik who made the play. It was a great play,” Tierney said. “I was kind of just wide open. That's a pretty easy goal for me when he makes that play."

Tierney continues to be somewhat enigmatic. Every once in awhile he’ll have a dominant performance like this one (such as Feb. 2 in Vancouver), but then he’s invisible offensively for weeks at a time. To be fair, Tierney doesn’t always have the most highly skilled linemates while centering the fourth line, but when he puts up the kind of game like he did on Tuesday night it does make you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

Still, his game against the Rangers provides hope that he’ll be able to fill a void while Logan Couture is out, and we’ve already seen that Tierney can be a very effective player in the postseason, too.

2 – Getting one early

It’s hard to believe that the Sharks didn’t have a lead in a game before Tuesday since March 14 in Buffalo. After that game, which they came back to win fairly easily, they allowed the first goal in all six games of their losing streak and never recovered.

It was evident early that the Sharks were poised to end both their first-goal streak and their losing streak, as the first three shifts were all played in New York’s end. Hansen capped it off by swatting in a loose puck that Boedker had put on net.

“It was critical. I don’t think it was an accident our record over the last six or seven without scoring first,” DeBoer said. “Traditionally we’ve been pretty good in that area. But it’s slipped here in the last six or seven. We found a way tonight. I thought we played a great game.”

Joe Pavelski said: "It was nice coming out in the first and scoring first. It’s been awhile since we had a lead. So, that was good to see. I think everyone was encouraged by that start."

The Sharks improved to 32-9-1 when scoring first. They are 11-17-6 when allowing the opening score.

3 – Melk man delivers one

Is there a more overlooked player on the Sharks roster than Melker Karlsson? He’s not a flashy guy, of course, but Karlsson plays that north-south game that coaches love, and he’s a tenacious penalty killer, too. He now has 10 goals on the season, good for fifth on the team.

His shorthanded goal, on a two-on-one with Tierney, gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead just before the first intermission.

“They took away the pass to Tierns there,” Karlsson said. “I looked up a little bit, and it went in. Low blocker is usually a good shot.”

Karlsson was playing in his first game since missing the previous eight with a lower body injury. As one of those depth guys, is there more responsibility for him and others to help fill the void left by Couture?

“Yeah. We’ve always got to be there, but especially when Logan is out. He’s a big player for us,” Karlsson said.

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

SAN JOSE – For at least one night, the Sharks’ depth players – most of which have been missing in action for weeks – found the scoresheet against the Rangers in a 5-4 overtime win on Tuesday.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The Sharks were playing their first of what will surely be at least a few games without center Logan Couture, and are still in the hunt for a Pacific Division title with four of their six remaining games against Edmonton and Calgary – teams they are trying to fend off to earn home ice in the first round. And, of course, they ended a wretched six-game losing streak in which they never had a lead in any of the defeats.

Coach Pete DeBoer mentioned earlier in the week that the coaching staff had challenged the depth players to do more, especially now that their second line center is out indefinitely. The response on Tuesday included two goals from Chris Tierney (including a late game-tying score), one goal and one assist from Jannik Hansen, a shorthanded goal by Melker Karlsson, two assists from Mikkel Boedker, and an assist from Tomas Hertl.

Consider the challenge met.

“We want to score. All the depth guys know, and talked about stepping up,” Tierney said. “It's good that we broke through tonight, especially with Logan out of the lineup. We're going to have to keep doing it throughout the playoffs."

DeBoer said the internal challenge “didn’t involve much more than just ‘Hey, we need some contributions from you.’ We can’t always look to the big guys to get the job done. We got that tonight. Those guys got on the board. It’s never a lack of effort with that group, but we’re the sum of our parts. We need those guys to get on the board for us on a regular basis and they did that tonight.”

It was also surely welcomed that one of their big guys – perhaps their biggest – got the overtime winner. Brent Burns had been mired in a 16-game drought without a goal, but his slap shot got through Henrik Lundqvist half-a-minute into an overtime power play.

While the depth guys will need to continue to produce, the Sharks are going to need more from Burns, too, as the postseason approaches. The defenseman had been kept off of the scoresheet in nine of 10 games from March 5 – 21, but now has one point in each of his last three games. That’s a good sign.

Getting a goal was particularly nice, as was ending the losing skid.

“Yeah on both accounts,” Burns said. “That was a big win, especially coming back, staying resilient, getting that big goal there at the end.”

Still, with all that went right, the game was far from perfect. The Sharks allowed a 3-1 second period lead to turn into a 4-3 deficit in just a span of five minutes and seven seconds, indicating they’re still a bit fragile. Derek Stepan made it 3-2 late in the second with a power play goal, Jesper Fast scored on a deflection early in the third, and J.T. Miller gave New York its first lead of the night less than five minutes into the final frame.

“There’s still room for improvement, definitely,” Joe Pavelski said.

Still, the Sharks fought back for Tierney’s late game-tying goal with less than two minutes in regulation, setting up Burns’ overtime heroics. 

The captain sensed some displeasure from the home fans due to the blown lead, something he surely understood, but indicated that the energy level on the Sharks’ bench was still high.

“Whether you think, like, ‘Here we go again’ or not – I’m sure someone in this building thought that tonight,” Pavelski said. “Guys just kind of stuck with it, and we believed we would tie it up tonight.”

Getting that extra point in overtime brought a sense of relief.

“When you lose six straight, it's obviously a relief when you win one,” Martin Jones said. “But win or lose, we played a lot better tonight.”