But this year, Sharks fans can expect “Pickles” to score more than he has in the past.
Vlasic has been a defensive stalwart for Team Teal since he broke into the National Hockey League four years ago. He’s earned respect around the NHL for his poise and ability to read the attack. The offense has always been a bit of a bonus. The mantra: take what comes, but focus on the defense.
In his first two campaigns, Vlasic totaled just five goals. Last year, he began an effort to add to the other side of the equation and scored six. Now the bar has been raised.
“We believe he does (have a lot of offensive potential),” McLellan said. “His aggressiveness in certain areas has to come out.”
Vlasic is just 22, so one wouldn’t think of him as a veteran, but he is – in terms of experience. His 249 games played ranks third among the Sharks blueliners. He also has four years of playoff action under his belt. Thus, the coaching staff has put high expectations on him.
“He’s not a freshman or sophomore,” McLellan said. “He has to step up. He’s a senior. In the past, we tried to comfort him a little. This year, there’s a little more stress so he’ll be ready in the playoffs for every situation possible.”
On the ice, Vlasic has the benefit of playing on the power play, penalty kill and even strength with team captain and defenseman Rob Blake, a player who does everything from his defensive position.
“I think his role has changed,” said Blake of his partner. “He’s going to bring more to the offensive side. He can score 10 this year. When he gets that, we’ll look for more.”
“It’s an objective for me,” Vlasic said about reaching double-digits in goals. “I have to take some more chances offensively without sacrificing the defensive side. I’ll pick my spots and work at getting my shots through.”
Vlasic may not have a hard slapshot like Blake, but he can get the puck to the goaltender quickly.
“If you get the shot through, you don’t even need the goal. Assists count too,” Vlasic said. “Our guy is screening and the defender is guarding him and making a double screen. The goalie is screened so the shot doesn’t have to be hard. Yesterday, I scored on a half-slapper and (Dany) Heatley was in front. It found a hole and went in.”
Vlasic is enjoying having a future Hall of Famer such as Blake as a teammate and on-ice mentor.
“I see a lot of him,” Vlasic said. “It’s great playing with him and I can learn from him. When I pass the puck to him he stops it and shoots right away. He does the little things right. He picks his spots.”
“Rob Blake is a Hall of Fame player,” McLellan saod. “He’s won a Norris Trophy and played in All-Star Games and the Olympics. There’s not a lot I’ll tell ‘Pickles’ that Rob Blake hasn’t experienced. He’s a great teaching tool for all the young defensemen.”
Vlasic hopes he can keep Blake excited about the game and playing more than just year-to-year.
“Hopefully, he like skating with me and it will make him want to play longer and feel younger,” Vlasic said of their near 20-year age difference.
The two had a good laugh when someone mixed them up the other day.
“Rob was at a restaurant and someone came up and asked him if he was Marc-Edouard Vlasic
,” Vlasic said. “I don’t know if he should be happier that someone thought he looked 22 or I should be more upset that someone thought I looked almost 40.”
Then Vlasic looked at it another way.
“Maybe that means someone thinks I’m a Hall of Famer,” Vlasic said.
If that’s his goal, he’s starting on a nice path in that direction.
The Sharks will see a familiar face on the opposing bench tomorrow night when Todd Richards returns to San Jose where he served as an assistant coach last year. Now, he’s the head coach for the Wild. That means the neutral zone trap won’t be clogging up the ice at HP Pavilion as it had under Jacques Lemaire. In fact, some Sharks players have said they could be playing against a mirror image of themselves.
Despite the change in playing style, McLellan expects tough defense from Minnesota.
“I think they’ll be a strong defensive team,” McLellan said. “I think the offense and the power play will run a little different than in the past.”
Odds are the two coaches will have time to catch up on old times.
“I hope we come across each other’s path,” McLellan said. “He’s busy with his team and we’re busy with ours.”
SIX IS SENSATIONAL
Dany Heatley had a plus-6 rating in the Sharks 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night. It was the highest plus/minus rating for an NHL player in one game since Andrej Meszaros was plus-6 for the Senators in their 8-4 win at Tampa Bay on Jan. 24, 2008.
Heatley was the first player to go plus-6 or better in a game in which he was on ice for every one of his team's goals since Atlanta's Richard Smehlik was a plus-6 in a 6-4 win at Buffalo on Nov. 9, 2002.
Forward Brad Staubitz has served his one-game suspension and is eligible to play vs. Minnesota.
“’Staubie’ has served his suspension and will be available for the next game,” McLellan said.
McLellan also said that goaltender Evgeni Nabokov will start tomorrow night. Nabokov has been in net for all four San Jose games this season.
McLellan acknowledged that Evgeni Nabokov would start against Minnesota.
The Sharks will play hosts to Minnesota Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com.