San Jose Sharks D-Men Vlasic and Braun Still a Shutdown Pairing?

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 24: Justin Braun #61 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate Braun's goal in the third period against the Calgary Flames at SAP Center on March 24, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 24: Justin Braun #61 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate Braun's goal in the third period against the Calgary Flames at SAP Center on March 24, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The San Jose Sharks have had the luxury of deploying Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the defensive zone for years now. Coach Pete DeBoer has dubbed them as the teams shutdown pair using them for the most difficult defensive assignments. However their performance together has dipped during the 2018 – 2019 campaign.

Old But Gold

Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have been anchoring the San Jose Sharks defense for nearly 6 seasons now. Since the lockout season the two blue liners have spent a ridiculous 5,394 minutes with one another at all situations.  That’s the most by any defensive pairing in the entire league over that period of time.

Much of that ice time has been buried inside the defensive zone. Braun and MEV have a ridiculous 34.61 ZSR, which is the lowest in the league during that time. This stat is relevant because it illustrates the lopsidedness in defensive to offensive usage.  Essentially these two live in their own zone. Regardless if it’s former Coach Todd McLellan or current bench manager Peter DeBoer these blue liners are perpetually utilized in the defensive situations.

These two face off against the league’s best competition on a nightly basis. Whether that be the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, or any of the opposing teams top forward line combinations you can bet that these two will be deployed to help limit the damage.

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Their play for the San Jose Sharks over the last handful of seasons has really been remarkable, especially when we consider the heavy usage and tough assignments. The duo has 44.2% CF percentage over that period of time. They are also sporting a 46.96 GF%, with a negative -29 goal differential.

These numbers might sound underwhelming but if you consider the amount of time the pairings spent buried in their own zone along with the quality of opponents faced, these underlying numbers illustrate the workings of a legitimate shut down pair.

Something that has also surprised me when surveying the pairings past production is how disciplined these two are on their skates. Since the lockout the twosome had only taken 237 penalties when on the ice together, with a 64+ penalties taken/drawn differential. These numbers are absolutely ridiculous and are an excellent representation of how well these two can skate. Their able to keep pace with the league’s best skaters without having to resort to things like holding their opponents stick, hooking, or slashing.

After years of success the two have ran into turbulence during the first parts of this sensationalized season. The San Jose Sharks went through some drastic changes during the offseason, which could be responsible for their boisterous start.

What’s New In 2018?

The San Jose Sharks roster got a major shake-up during the beginning stages of the 2018 campaign. The addition of Erik Karlsson drastically improves this teams already dynamic group of blueliners. But his necessity for massive amounts of ice time for maximum effectiveness has thrown an established core into flux.

Early on the San Jose Sharks experimented with a MEV – EK65 combination with some success but ultimately seem content with the current configurations. The duo of MEV and Braun have spent some time apart this season and they’ve flashed their effectiveness with out one another but eventually coach Peter DeBoer returned to the old trusted pairing.

Since reverting  back to the old tandem the two have produced some surprising results. The veteran defenders have been dispatched in the defensive zone at an even higher rate posting a 29.97 ZSR. It seems as though the San Jose Sharks have slightly shifted their defensive strategy in order to give their offensively gifted blue liners more opportunities to create offense in the opponents zone.

They’ve also given up a significant number of goals with a -15 with only 518 minutes on ice during the first portion of the San Jose Sharks 2018 – 2019 Stanley Cup run. Team Teal has had “somewhat” of a rocky start and the MEV – Braun pairing have taken the bulk of the punishment facing off against their opponents best offensive threats on a nightly basis.

Their possession numbers have also taken a dip with a 41% CF and FF respectively. These two are struggling to control play and transition the puck up the ice effectively. This is something that these two have done traditionally over the course of their careers in Teal, with their uncanny ability to retrieve the puck in their own end and exiting in a safe manner. But their have been points this year where the pairing seems outmatched at pivotal moments of games.

Do They Still Have Shut Down Status?

Regardless of mine or the masses opinion of these two they are still being utilized as the San Jose Shark’s shut down pairing. The two have had a noticeable and worrying dip in effectiveness during the early stages of this season; but personally I feel like much of that can be blamed on the teams overall struggles with a major overhaul to the their defensive configurations and strategy.

Braun’s play has solidified and has even gotten involved offensively of late. MEV has had a few too many obvious blunders this season and many believe that MEV’s recent string of mistakes are a symptom of a larger issue with his game. However it’s far too early to bury arguably the best defender in Sharks history. The team and fans should be wary of getting themselves into a pickle by doing something hastily and potentially regrettable.

Their performance on the ice during these early stages of the regular season along with the underlying numbers producing mixed results as a whole. But many of these hindrances are explainable and most likely can be fixed (for at least this season). With a track record like Vlasic’s it’s hard to completely abandon ship when it comes to the 31 year blue liner who’s built up and solidified his reputation as one of the leagues best shut down defenders.

Next. Rehashing the Karlsson Trade. dark

All statistics in this article were provided by Corsica.Hockey unless stated otherwise.