The San Jose Sharks defense has been among the NHL’s best. Outside of the stellar goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov and Brian Boucher, the six men who are on the backend each night have played a big role in San Jose possessing the NHL’s second best goals-against-average as anyone. Each night, they’re facing hockey’s most dangerous sniping wingers.
When everyone is healthy, Head Coach Todd McLellan regularly uses these duos: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
and Rob Blake, Dan Boyle
and Brad Lukowich and Christian Ehrhoff and Douglas Murray
Lately, being “healthy” has been an issue with McLellan’s defense.
Lukowich missed most of the contests in January. Blake missed a few games recently after taking a puck to the face (although his quick return was a strong statement to his desire and the training staff). Now, Boyle is on the shelf with an upper body injury. Boyle has missed all three games following the All-Star break and didn’t practice with the team on Monday.
The current rash of injuries hasn’t been an issue. In fact, the Sharks posted two consecutive shutouts after the break while playing without a third of their defensive regulars.
“When a team is as deep as we are, you can afford it for a few games,” Blake said.
“That’s when a team can play its best,” Vlasic said. “You find a way to win.”
However in the long term, an injury to someone who eats up plenty of minutes will eventually have an affect.
“You don’t want anyone out long term,” Blake said. “If you miss 10 games and then it takes a couple of games to come back, that’s almost a month.”
McLellan has adjusted to his injury problems. For example, Ehrhoff and Vlasic have been bringing the puck out of the defensive zone more often than usual.
“Christian has two goals in the last two games,” Vlasic said. “With guys out, others have to step up.”
Not only do roles change, but also pairings. For now, Vlasic is paired with Ehrhoff.
“The first game you switch, you’re getting used to a different guy,” Vlasic said. “I know what Blake wants and you get used to him.”
Because of the injuries, McLellan couldn’t stand pat on his defensive lines.
“’Pickles’ (Vlasic) and Blake have played the whole season against the top lines,” McLellan said. “Then Boyle and Lukowich were next. Now neither (Boyle or Lukowich) is there so you have to balance things up front.”
Vlasic hasn’t only switched partners, but has changed sides of the ice as well.
“I played the other side last year,” Vlasic said while noting it wasn’t a big deal.
“Christian has played both sides this year,” McLellan said.
Changing from the left to the right or the right to the left isn’t an easy as it would seem.
“Switching sides would mess me up,” Blake said.
There have been other changes, too. Alexei Semenov has been used on defense and recently played on the wing. And then there’s American Hockey League All-Star Derek Joslin, who made his National Hockey League debut on Jan. 3.
“Joslin has stepped right in and has been doing his job,” Blake said. “It only gives the organization a chance to see what they have. Semenov hadn’t played defense in 15 games and he stepped right in.”
“You’ve got to give him (Semenov) credit,” McLellan said. “He’d been the odd man out and when he’s been called upon, he’s held his own. When Boyle comes back, the question is who comes out.”
No team ever stays injury-free. But the advantage is the coaches get to really know their personnel. This knowledge will come in handy during the Stanley Cup Playoffs as there’s no roster limit.
“We can’t predict the future injury-wise,” McLellan said. “We want Boyle and Lukowich back so they can go into their regular roles. We will have received the benefit of others playing.”
NO. 9 GOING TO THE TOP OF MSG
Left wing Adam Graves, who played for the Sharks from 2001-03, is having his No. 9 retired by the Rangers in a pregame ceremony at Madison Square Garden tonight before the Rangers game vs. Atlanta. Graves was a member of the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup Champions and scored 52 goals in that memorable 1993-94 season.
VOTE FOR NABBY!
NHL.COM has a site for fans to help choose the NHL Player of the Week. Evgeni Nabokov is a nominee this week. Click here
to vote for Nabby.
The Sharks will play hosts to Carolina on Thursday in a 7:30 p.m. faceoff with the contest available on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com
. Tickets can be found at www.ticketmaster.com
or at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.