Programming note: Coverage of Game 2 between the Sharks and Kings begins Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live (Channel locations)
SAN JOSE – If there was an unsung hero in the Sharks’ Game 1 win over Los Angeles on Thursday, it was probably defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Fiery Sharks storm past Kings in Game 1]
Not that that’s anything new when it comes to San Jose’s best defenseman.
Still arguably the most underappreciated player in the NHL, Vlasic popped in a power play goal and an assist in the Sharks’ 6-3 victory, and his five shots tied a team-high with Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns. In 18 minutes and 50 seconds of ice time, Vlasic was a +1.
Just like teammate Joe Pavelski, the six-foot-one, 205-pounder has shown no signs of fatigue despite competing in the Olympics in February. In fact, the 27-year-old said that he’s a more confident player after winning a gold medal as part of Team Canada.
“Being there with those players, playing with the best and playing against the best players helped,” Vlasic said. “Playing in the semifinal and final game, where it’s one game and if you lose you have to wait four more years. Just having that experience, being able to bring it here into the playoffs, that’s huge. I feel since the Olympics my game has grown, and I have to keep that going here.’’
Coach Todd McLellan has been behind the bench for six of Vlasic’s eight NHL seasons. The former second round pick broke into the league as a rookie in 2006-07.
“With Marc-Edouard, there’s not a big swing in his game no matter when, or even for that matter how old he was,” McLellan said. “Even as an 18-year-old, from what I was told, he felt like he belonged.
“I know in our six years here, he just goes about his business. The [icing] on the cake is the fact that he went to the Olympics with the best in the world. It confirmed in his mind and probably a lot of others that he fits in with that group. Very good for his confidence. Good for our team’s confidence, as well. Our team really believes in him as an individual.”
Vlasic’s goal came shortly after partner Jason Demers broke up what was nearly a shorthanded breakaway by the Kings’ Mike Richards. He rifled in a wrist shot from the high slot past Jonathan Quick in the second period, extending the Sharks’ lead to 5-0.
Although Vlasic’s 24 regular season points (5 goals, 19 assists) don’t measure up with the higher profile defensemen in the league – in large part because he rarely plays on the power play – Vlasic knows when he can jump into the offensive zone and contribute in that regard without taking risks. His +31 rating, tied for ninth best in the NHL’s regular season, reflects that.
“He’s an intelligent player,” McLellan said. “He understands what his role is, and he picks his spots and has the legs to get there. Obviously, on his goal, his timing was real good. That’s his game.”