SAN JOSE -– Cue all those concerns about the Sharks’ lack of depth on defense again.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic will not play against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a lower body injury, and it’s unknown how much time the 28-year-old will miss. Mirco Mueller has been recalled from the Barracuda, so either he or rookie Dylan DeMelo will suit up on Saturday night.
A member of the 2014 Canadian Olympic team that won gold, Vlasic is the club’s best defensive defenseman. He’s second on the team in time on ice (23:07 per game), and has contributed 11 points (3g, 8a) thanks in part to some increased power play time.
“Obviously he plays solid minutes for us, and defensively he’s just strong back there,” Joe Pavelski said. “Any time you lose one of your top defensemen it’s going to be a little bit of a hole, and guys just need to do a good job of playing together out there.”
The best guess here is that Brenden Dillon, who can play either side, will jump up to take Vlasic’s vacated place with Justin Braun. The 25-year-old recently gave the club good minutes while paired with Vlasic while Braun missed two games with an infection in his left elbow.
Either way, the team will attempt to carry on without Vlasic for at least one night, and maybe more. The Sharks are 1-4 when missing a top four defenseman this season, going 0-3 without Paul Martin and 1-1 recently minus Braun.
“It’s not going to change our structure offensively or defensively,” Pavelski said. “We’ve got to be responsible with the puck. … We don’t want to play in the D-zone regardless if Eddy is out there or not. But, he defends well, one of the best at it. You’ll definitely miss that.”
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Scoring is dry lately for San Jose, which was shut out on Friday and held to just one goal against the Penguins at home on Wednesday.
Two of the more notable players in scoring droughts are top line forwards Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson. Thornton has one assist in his last seven games and is on pace for just 50 points, while Karlsson, who has had some good looks at the net lately, is scoreless in his last six.
Typically when a team is in a drought, it looks to its best players to help lead the way out of it. Is that the case here?
"You're not going to get production out of those guys every single night. I think overall the big guys have given us pretty consistent production so far this year,” Pete DeBoer said. “I think we've got to get production from everybody. … It doesn't fall on one group."
Pavelski said: “Chances are there, you’ve got to finish. Goalies are good, the time is limited in the slot when you get those chances, so you’ve got to really make them count.”
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Chris Tierney will return to the lineup on the fourth line with Dainius Zubrus and Mike Brown, after sitting as a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Friday night.
He had a chance to study the game from above in Anaheim.
“It’s a great time to watch some of the guys like [Pavelski and Thornton],” he said “Even guys on the other team, it’s good to watch tem and see what they’re doing. Just kind of see maybe what I do versus what they do in a situation.”
The sophomore slump has hit Tierney, who is still looking for his first goal in a manned net. He has six points (2g, 4a) and a -6 rating in 24 games.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” the 21-year-old said of his season so far. “Sometimes I feel good out there and some games it’s left feeling like we didn’t do anything or we got scored on. It’s about finding that consistency of brining it every night, and it’s something I’m still working on.”
DeBoer said: “I just want him to play with some energy, [and] not watch the game. Get involved in the game."
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Alex Stalock will man the crease for the Sharks for the first time since Nov. 22 at Columbus in the final game of their impressive six-game trip. He’ll be going for his third straight win in games he starts.
"Al's done a good job for us,” DeBoer said. “He's a good teammate. Guys play hard for him. He plays with energy. You know you're always going to get a real good effort out of him. I think it's on our guys to make sure we give him some support here tonight."
In his career, Stalock’s numbers at SAP Center are impressive. He’s 11-6-2 with a 1.73 goals-against average and .933 save percentage at home.
Conversely, number one Martin Jones is still trying to find some consistency in his new home. In 10 games at SAP Center, he’s 3-6-1 with a 2.90 GAA and .894 SP.