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Possible absence of Vlasic looms over the Sharks

by Corey Masisak

SAN JOSE -- Marc-Edouard Vlasic has carried the label of "one of the most underrated players in the NHL" for years, but that description has changed as more people recognized his abilities.

Now it's "he's one of the elite players in the NHL," and that's part of why his potential absence for Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round series could be a big problem Monday night for the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, CSN-CA, PRIME).

Vlasic did not practice with the team Sunday after not playing in the final 45 minutes of Game 5 on Saturday night. He didn't skate Monday morning and there reportedly was not a locker stall set up for him at Staples Center.

"I don't know yet, to tell you the truth," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said when asked if Vlasic would make the trip to Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. "We had a meeting, we had a quick practice; I've got to go deal with that as the next thing. ... Obviously, he didn't skate [Sunday] so he may make the trip and we'll see how he is [Monday]."

Vlasic left the game with what McLellan called an upper-body injury at 14:09 of the first period. Jarret Stoll checked him into the boards behind the San Jose net, and was assessed a roughing minor on the play.

If Vlasic cannot play, Matt Irwin is the likely replacement. Irwin played 62 games for the Sharks during the regular season. The Sharks only used seven defenseman all season, and each of them played at least 56 games.

"It helps that I played a lot. I've been around the guys all year," Irwin said. "I played 11 games in the playoffs last year. I played the full series against these guys last year, so I know what it is all about. If I get a chance, I'm excited and I'm ready to go."

Replacing Vlasic's contributions is no easy task. Vlasic was a rare find for the Sharks when he played a full NHL season and excelled as a 19-year-old rookie in 2006-07.

Never one to fill up a score sheet, Vlasic has evolved into the one of premier two-way defenseman in the sport. He helps ignite San Jose's transition attack with sound positional play in his own end and a deft passing ability.

"It would hurt," Sharks center Logan Couture said of Vlasic's potential absence. "I don't know the extent of the injury. But yeah, he's a top-10 d-man in the League, moves pucks, very good skater. He's a big part of our team. If he's not able to go it will definitely hurt us."

Vlasic is one of the prime examples of a player whose value has been easier to calculate with the use of advanced statistics. Finishing a season with six goals and 34 points is solid, but he means much more than that to the Sharks.

The 27-year-old defenseman faced tough competition and had more shifts start in the defensive zone than in the offensive zone, but the Sharks still had 58.2 percent of the shot attempts at even strength when Vlasic was on the ice.

That total, his Corsi for percentage, was good for third in the NHL among defensemen, behind only the Los Angeles pairing of Doughty and Jake Muzzin. Doughty and Muzzin started more shifts in the offensive zone, while Vlasic and Doughty faced the same level of competition (29.1 percent in quality of competition on

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Defense - SJS
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 0
"He's a huge part of this team and if we don't have him [Monday night] night, someone is going to have to step in and do what they do best," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Everybody brings something special. [Vlasic] is a special player. You just try to do the best you can as a unit and as a team."

A big reason for the change in perception about Vlasic around the continent was his play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He was a key figure for Canada's gold-medal winning team, and performed well on a team that included Doughty, Weber, Duncan Keith and Alex Pietrangelo.

The effect of his potential absence in this series was evident in the final 45 minutes of Game 5. Los Angeles had a 2-0 lead in the game and quickly made it 3-0 early in the second period. Typically, when teams are trailing in a game they begin to control the play and earn a larger share of the shot attempts. That didn't happen right away for the Sharks, and not having Vlasic was part of that.

It was also part of the reason for the Kings' third line having such a great game. Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams and Dwight King each finished the game with a Corsi for percentage of at least 65 percent. Stoll's line had seen more ice time against Vlasic's pairing than the other two in the first four games.

"We feel that they have three very dangerous lines," McLellan said. "Jarret Stoll's line may have been the best over the last little bit so adjustments also come into play that way."

One of those adjustments might be a more permanent move to center for Joe Pavelski. He's flipped back and forth between the wing on the top line and centering the third unit, often during games, but he was in a teal practice jersey Sunday, which would suggest a spot on the third line for Game 6.

"Could be," McLellan said when asked if Pavelski's sweater color was part of the adjustments he mentioned. "Could very well be."

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