Sharks head south for first battle with Kings
Marc-Edouard Vlasic has nine points (2g, 7a) to tie him for third in scoring among NHL defensemen. (USATSI)
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SAN JOSE -- Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a popular guy with the local media on the tail end of the Sharks’ recent eastern road swing.
To be fair, that’s due in large part due to Vlasic being one of just a few Sharks players that could speak the French language to local stations in Montreal and Ottawa.
There’s more, though, as Vlasic’s play on the ice is speaking for itself. Already in his eighth year in the league, Vlasic is becoming more and more likely to earn a spot on Team Canada’s Olympic squad for the upcoming games in Sochi, Russia. He forms half of the Sharks’ shutdown pair with Justin Braun, and on a team that has the NHL’s best record and is allowing the second-fewest goals per game (1.58), that’s as good a place as any to start when evaluating the Montreal native’s game.
“As far as shutdown guys in the league, he’s as good as anybody,” associate coach Larry Robinson said on Tuesday.
For some time now, Vlasic has often been named by national media types as one of the most underrated players in the league. He hasn't gotten the attention of fellow Western Conference blueliners like Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter or even teammate Dan Boyle, because he hasn't put up gaudy offensive numbers that are largely a result of extended power play time. He’s also not the biggest guy, at six-foot-one and 205 pounds, and rarely will he throw a game-changing hit.
But numbers-wise, his name is prominent among league leaders early on in 2013-14. Though 12 games, Vlasic and partner Braun are tied for the league lead with a +11 rating. Vlasic has nine points (2g, 7a) to tie him for third in scoring among defensemen, behind Norris Trophy winners P.K. Subban (11 points) and Erik Karlsson (10 points). Six of Vlasic’s points are at even strength, just one off the league lead.
That uptick in offensive production could help his exposure. And Vlasic doesn’t mind if that’s the case.
“It’s nice that you finally get recognized. I’ve been playing, personally I think, great hockey for eight years,” Vlasic said. “It’s nice to get rewarded for the good things you do. Better late than never.
“I play the same way. Every year I try to get better, and it’s nice to finally get recognized. Now you have no choice but to continue it.”
Robinson gets much of the credit for helping improve Vlasic’s game, and Vlasic himself expressed again on Tuesday how much it’s helped to have a guy like the nine-time Stanley Cup champion on the bench and the ice for the last two seasons.
But Robinson said that it’s a team effort in coaching the defense, between himself and assistant coach Jim Johnson, who frequently reviews video with Vlasic and the other rearguards.
“I’m not going to sit here and take all the credit for it. Jimmy Johnson does as much and probably more than maybe what I do,” Robinson said. “We both feel he’s a very underrated defenseman.”
Robinson was also quick to credit Braun, who is playing the best hockey of his career after battling a hand injury in 2013. In fact, Braun is leading the Sharks in ice time with 21 minutes and 35 seconds per game, about a minute more than Vlasic, who is second (20:33).
“Both him and Brauner make a tremendous duo as far as a shutdown pair,” Robinson said. “When they start talking about Olympics and everybody else, I’m surprised that Brauner isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Eddy (as a potential for Team USA). The two of them have been key players for us since the start of the year.”
Still, Vlasic is the guy that could very well be the single most indispensible player on the roster. While the Sharks have lost key cogs like Boyle and Brent Burns, Vlasic and the rest of the blueliners have not only kept the team competitive, but also allowed it to keep piling up wins.
Pretty soon, Vlaisc might not be viewed as underrated, he might simply be considered one of the best defensemen in the league. More games on the east coast this season could help, but that’s not at the forefront of Vlasic's mind.
“As long as the players, coaches and your peers know where your game is at, that’s what counts,” he said.