SAN JOSE – Adjusting to life without their most proficient defensive blue liner has proven to be no easy task for the Sharks over the years. This season, they entered Monday night’s game with Los Angeles just 2-5-1 without Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the lineup, including three straight losses.
Justin Braun has had to adjust more than most of his teammates. He lost his regular partner when Vlasic suffered a lower body injury on March 17 in Arizona.
Originally, coach Pete DeBoer reduced Braun’s minutes after Vlasic came out of the lineup. In the five games prior to the meeting with the Kings, Braun played an average of 17:38 with new partner Dylan DeMelo, down almost three-and-a-half minutes from his 21:01 average before Vlasic’s most recent injury.
Against the Kings, though, Braun recorded 21:18 of ice time, his most since Feb. 22. Both he and the team benefited from the increased role, as the 29-year-old defenseman played perhaps his best game of the season with two goals, a plus-two rating, a team-high six hits and some stellar plays on the defensive side of the puck.
“Solid,” was how Joe Pavelski described Braun’s night.
The night didn’t start off so hot for Braun, when his delay of game penalty led to Vincent Lecavalier’s power play goal midway through the first. But he quickly made up for it, showing good awareness in the offensive zone and firing in a shot after the puck squirted out from the wall to Melker Karlsson, who quickly pushed it to an open Braun.
“Especially after the over the glass penalty you want to get that one back, so it was a good feeling,” Braun said.
Pavelski said: "He skates well enough to be up in the play and gets a few of those chances.”
A few minutes later Braun tracked down Tanner Pearson, showing good speed through the neutral zone to nullify a potential two-on-one.
In the third, he tied up Anze Kopitar’s stick before the powerful Kings center could tap in a loose puck that had gotten behind Martin Jones to preserve a 3-2 lead, and then put the game away with an impressive bank shot off from the defensive zone into the empty net.
Braun earned some praise from NBC analyst Keith Jones after the game, as Jones specifically spotlighted Braun’s night.
“He was aggressive. I thought he did a really good job with some extended minutes,” Jones said. “Great all-around game from Braun tonight.”
Pavelski said: “That’s the performance we need. I think he made key plays."