SAN JOSE – In the Sharks’ win over Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center on Nov. 21, the number that leapt out from the post game summary was the ice time for the top defense pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. In a 60-minute game Vlasic skated a season-high of 28:55, while Braun wasn’t too far behind at 28:02.
Headed into the rematch on Tuesday at SAP Center the Sharks will still likely be without Braun, who was ruled out on Monday by coach Pete DeBoer with an infected left elbow. It will help DeBoer that he has the last change at home, but the coach still expects his top four defensemen – including Brenden Dillon, in Braun’s place – to see plenty of the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lines.
“Their big guys log a lot of ice,” DeBoer said. “You know going into the game that our top four defensemen are going to have to log some bigger minutes tonight.”
Dillon was particularly good against the Flames on Saturday, setting up Tomas Hertl for a first period goal and finishing with a +2 rating in a season-high 21:54 of ice time.
Although the Penguins have struggled to score this season, sitting 26th in the NHL at 2.30 goals-per game, they are still much more dangerous than the floundering Flames. Crosby is on a five-game point streak, while Malkin has four goals in the last three games.
“Calgary has obviously got some firepower, but Pittsburgh is another step up from that, for sure,” Dillon said. “You’re going to the Crosby’s and Malkin’s, and they’re playing well as of late. Just got to make it a point and a challenge to yourself that you want to be better than their top guys.”
On Pittsburgh’s top six, Crosby will be reunited with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz on a line that has been successful in the past. Malkin’s line features newcomer Phil Kessel, who scored the Pens’ only goal in their 3-1 loss to the Sharks just 10 days ago, and veteran David Perron.
“When we’re handling teams with that type of depth, where they can spread two guys like that out on two different lines, we’re looking at a group of people, usually two or three lines and at least four defensemen,” DeBoer said. “It’s got to be by group, and I think we’re comfortable in our group that if we get stuck with our third or fourth line out there against those guys, that they can respond and get the job done.”
Tommy Wingels said: “You don't want to give their elite guys time with the puck. It will be about getting pucks in their zone and sustaining ice time and time and zone down there and going from there."
In their recent win over the Penguins the Sharks got all three of their goals from defensemen, including two by Brent Burns and one from Paul Martin. Of their 29 shots, 13 came from blueliners.
Expect Pittsburgh to put more of an importance on preventing those point shots from getting through tonight.
“We know we’re going to get a response game out of them,” DeBoer said. “We know they’re going to look at try to fix some of the things they didn’t do against us. This is a tough matchup for us, but [they are] critical points, and we know that.”