One player won’t make a difference on a 20-man hockey team, but it’s more than just a coincidence that the Sharks recent slide concluded in Marc-Edouard Vlasic
’s second game back from injury. In fact, San Jose has won two of three since he’s returned.
“Pickles” plays a stay-at-home game that can be rather underappreciated during any National Hockey League contest, but Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan pointed out the basic facts.
“You don’t know how good you have it until you’re without it,” said McLellan, referring to Vlasic and his extended absence. “He’s a steady influence on the blueline. It’s pretty obvious we’re a better team when we have him in the lineup.”
NHL clubs have to deal with players being in-and-out of the lineup all year long and they have to adjust, no matter what level the player is. But eventually, a player who skates close to 25 minutes a game like Vlasic is going to be missed.
“He’s a steady influence on the blueline,” McLellan said. “It’s pretty obvious we’re a better team when we have him in the lineup. He can play 24 minutes and doesn’t fatigue.”
“He plays a lot minutes and when you lose someone who plays 25 minutes a night, he’s going to be missed,” said Rob Blake, who’s been Vlasic’s blueline partner. “With him back, it allows the partners to be together.”
Vlasic leads all Sharks defensemen with a plus-15 plus/minus rating and that’s not a small accomplishment considering he logs a lot of time with the opposition’s top offensive units on the ice. In fact, if Vlasic is on the ice when the opponent scores, he gets irritated.
“I hate being on the ice for a goal against,” Vlasic said. “It’s important to me.”
The plus/minus number can be skewed at times based on a lot of circumstances, but the coaches like to track scoring chances against and Vlasic shows very well in that category.
“Scoring chances against are more important to us and he fares well,” McLellan said.
Goals will inevitably occur when playing against the world’s best hockey players and when that happens, Vlasic is unflappable.
“’Pickles’ is a person where the water rolls off his back, not a lot of things get to him, whether it’s us (the coaches) or the players barking at him,” McLellan said. “Some have trouble leaving it behind them.”
Vlasic won’t be confused with Dan Boyle
as far as being an offensive threat. Throughout the year, Vlasic’s first passes in the defensive zone have helped the Sharks clear the zone a little easier. And when the other team has the puck, he uses his smarts on that end as well.
“He makes the first pass and that helps us,” forward Ryane Clowe
said. “We like to get the puck fast.”
Clowe is one of the Sharks forwards who has to face Vlasic in practice and knows how frustrating it can be trying to score with him on the ice.
“He’s very good with his stick and a lot (of his success) has to do with his agility,” Clowe said.
Vlasic is happy to be back and contributing after watching from the press box for longer than he wanted.
“I feel great and feel like I haven’t missed a game,” Vlasic said. “I wanted to come back 100 percent and I’m ready to go.”
In fact, Vlasic is feeling good enough to joke with Blake about his uptick in offensive numbers recently.
“I was teasing him about it,” said Vlasic of Blake’s goal and three assists since his partner’s return. “We’ve played well the last two games.”
Being out for almost two months was difficult for Vlasic, but gave him an appreciation for what others have gone through.
“It was weird having so much time off,” said Vlasic. “The whole month of February, I didn’t skate. Now I know all the work Torrey (Mitchell) went through. It’s not fun. You’re here early and you have to watch the other guys play.”
Now Vlasic’s back with the guys and the Sharks are better for it.
Blake missed most of the third period last night after taking a shot from Dany Heatley. He was back on the ice for practice on Friday.
“I should have gotten out of the way and let him score,” Blake said.
McLellan let Devin Setoguchi have the day off for a maintenance day and stated that Scott Nichol would likely be a game-time decision for Saturday’s game against Vancouver. McLellan also hinted that Evgeni Nabokov will likely be in goal.
SATURDAY MORNING NEWS
Head Coach Todd McLellan said that Scott Nichol is good to go for tonight's contest and Evgeni Nabokov will be in net against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.
The Sharks will face Vancouver in a 7 p.m. start on Saturday and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.