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Photo Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 43.0: Dynamite Defence (8:30pm MST, SNW)

When you have two Norris Trophy winners and a Canadian Olympian on your blueline, it is safe to assume the strength of your team should be your defencemen. The San Jose Sharks deploy Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as their top-three blueliners. For my money that is the best top-three in the NHL.

Despite the riches in talent on the blueline, the Sharks are much closer to the bottom of the NHL in goals against. Part of that is due to average play by netminder Martin Jones, and while the Sharks are 18th in GAA at 3.02, they are fourth in goals scored at 3.48/game.

The Sharks have been able to outscore their defensive deficiencies so far this season, and with Brent Burns leading NHL defenders in points with 47 and Karlsson sixth with 38, I can see why the Sharks are willing to exchange chances.

The Oilers don’t have that luxury. They are very close to the Sharks defensively, with a 3.12 GAA, but offensively they are well behind at 2.79 goals/game.

Much of the Sharks offence comes from the blueline, mainly those two. They don’t produce a lot of goals — the entire Sharks D corps has 15 goals with Burns scoring seven and Karlsson three, but they have combined for 112 assists.

Oilers blueliners have 14 goals and 59 assists. San Jose has 53 more assists than the Oilers. They move the puck much better at even strength, but also on the powerplay. Oscar Klefbom leads the Oilers blueline with six PP points, while Burns has 19 and Karlsson has 16. This is not a shot at the Oilers blueline, rather I’m illustrating how dangerous the Sharks D corps is offensively.

No doubt Peter Deboer will want his team to tighten up defensively in the second half, but they are one of the few teams who have defencemen capable of outscoring their team’s defensive weaknesses.

It is interesting to note how Burns, Karlsson and Vlasic have been deployed this season.

Burns has played 802 5×5 minutes. His most consistent partner is Joakim Ryan (285 min), but he’s only played 35% of the time with him. Here is who he has played with and their GF-GA numbers.

Teammates      Min        GF-GA
Ryan                285         16-15
Radim Simek   192         12-6
Karlsson          123          5-7
Braun               71           3-2
Vlasic               67           4-8
Dillon                65           2-0

Funny enough, Burns has a better GF% with Ryan, Simek and Dillon compared to Karlsson, Vlasic and Braun. Granted it isn’t a lot of minutes with any specific player. Overall Burns has very good numbers.

FF-FA              SF-SA            SCF-SCA        GF-GA
684-502        479-362          426-344        42-38

He has a very good Fenwick, has 117 more shots for, 82 more scoring chances, but only four more goals. I suspect we will see his GF-GA ratio improve in the second half based on his other possession numbers.

Karlsson meanwhile has played with the following players during his 791 5×5 minutes.

Teammates      Min        GF-GA
Dillon                432        27-17
Vlasic                171         8-11
Burns                123          5-7
Braun                 43          1-2

He’s spent 55% of his time with Dillon and they’ve fared very well. Like Burns, Karlsson when deployed with Vlasic has a negative GF-GA ratio.

Maybe the most surprising stat has been the struggles of Vlasic-Braun as a pair and Vlasic’s overall numbers. He and Braun have a GF-GA or 15-23. Not good for a usually reliable pair, and overall Vlasic is -13 (30-43). He and Braun are the only Sharks defenders with a GF% under 50. They are each at 41%.

Braun won’t play tonight and Vlasic is a game time decision after missing the past two games. If I was a Sharks fan I wouldn’t be that worried Vlasic will find his game. He’s been a solid defender for many years. In his previous ten seasons Vlasic had a GF% of 55 with 517 goals for and 429 goals against. The first half of the season has been outside the norm for him.

There is no guarantee he will turn it around, especially as he battles injuries, and I’m curious to see which D pair will see Connor McDavid tonight. The Oilers should get some quality looks, they just have to ensure they don’t give up too many because the Sharks offence is lethal, especially from the back end.

LINEUP

Oilers

Khaira – McDavid – Kassian
Lucic – RNH – Puljujarvi
Rieder – Draisaitl – Chiasson
Spooner – Brodziak – Rattie

Jones – Larsson
Nurse – Russell
Gravel – Petrovic

Talbot

The only change is Spooner in for Gambardella. The lines are what the game starts with, but Ken Hitchcock will use numerous variations during the game depending on how it is going. Against Anaheim after a slow start, he put McDavid and Draisaitl back together for a shift and they scored. With limited scoring from the wings right now Hitchcock will move Draisaitl, RNH and McDavid around often.

Sharks

Sorenson-Thornton-Pavelski
Radil-Couture-Meier
Kane-Hertl-Donskoi
Karlsson-Goodrow-Labanc

Dillon-Karlsson
Simek-Burns
Ryan-Heed

Jones

Jones played last night, but there was some speculation from San Jose scribes he might play again tonight in favour of Aaron Dell. Also, Vlasic will be a game time decision and if he is ready he will slot in with Ryan most likely.

The Sharks don’t have top-30 scorer among their forwards, but they get solid contributions from many players. They have five forwards with 30+ points and two more in Lebanc and Donskoi with 24 and 22 respectively. Thornton has 19 points in 35 games, and while he has slowed down offensively he can still make some plays.

The Oilers have four forwards with 20 points and Jujhar Khaira is fifth on the team with 13 points. He’d be 10th on the Sharks.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Both teams are playing their third game in four nights, with the Sharks playing BTB. It won’t be a crisp game, and the Sharks prevail 4-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Sharks have been shorthanded two or fewer times in 21 of their 44 games including four games where they weren’t on the PK once. Edmonton only gets two PPs tonight.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Tobias Rieder hasn’t scored in 29 games. His previous career-worst drought was 15 games, which he accomplished twice last season. He is determined not to double it tonight and his goalless streak stops before hitting 30 games.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/07/2019 – 2:00 pm MST