SAN JOSE – It's a good time for the Sharks to get top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic back in their lineup.
The Lightning bring the NHL’s top ranked offense into their only appearance at SAP Center on Sunday night, and the Sharks will have Vlasic on their blue line after a four-game absence with an upper body injury.
“Any time you can get Marc-Edouard back in the lineup is good timing,” Todd McLellan said. “We’ll need him tonight, and we’ll need the other 19 guys to play really good defensively. If we let our guard down because we’re getting one of the better defensemen in the league back into our lineup, it won’t matter.”
[RELATED: Sharks activate Vlasic, reassign DeMelo]
Scott Hannan said: “It means a lot. He’s out there and logs a lot of tough minutes for us against tough teams and tough lineups. Facing the team we are tonight, it’s going to be a big boost for us.”
The Lightning feature one of the deepest offenses in the league, with guys like Brian Boyle (12 goals), Valtteri Filppula (11 goals), Cedric Paquette (11 goals) and Brett Connolly (11 goals) in their bottom six.
The Sharks will need more than Vlasic to sweep the season series with the Lightning, after squeaking out a 2-1 win in Tampa Bay on Nov. 13.
“Everybody is important and everybody is going to have to play,” McLellan said.
McLellan said he was unsure who would come out of the lineup for Vlasic, other than it would be a left-handed defenseman. That means either Hannan, Matt Irwin or Mirco Mueller would be in the press box, with Mueller the most likely candidate.
The Sharks’ coach was also unsure of pairs, although Vlasic was playing with Brent Burns before he got hurt.
One area the Sharks may have missed Vlasic in particular is the penalty kill. They have given up one power play goal in each of the four games Vlasic, who leads the team in time on ice on the PK, missed.
Still, the Sharks have been making too many blatant errors in that facet of the game. Against the Flames on Feb. 9, an Andrew Desjardins failed clearing attempt resulted in a Jiri Hudler marker, while Burns’ giveaway to Keith Yandle burned San Jose for a goal-against in Arizona on Friday.
San Jose’s penalty kill has dropped to 17th in the NHL at 80.6 percent.
“A few of the goals we’ve let in you just want to pull your hair out,” McLellan said. “We have opportunities to clear, there is really nothing going on. It’s not even anything the other team has done, we’ve just given the puck right back to them.”
Antti Niemi will start in net for the 10th time in 11 games. He’s 5-0-1 in his career against the Lightning with a 2.31 goals-against average and .916 save percentage, including a 32-save win earlier this year.
When asked if Alex Stalock might play in either Nashville or Dallas later this week, McLellan said: “I only know what we’re doing tonight.”