He may not be flashy, but there’s a reason the Sharks blueliner is constantly getting called for duty by Team Canada – Vlasic will take on any challenge
Sure, Alex Ovechkin got a couple chances in last night’s 3-0 loss against San Jose, but for most of the night, ‘Ovie’ couldn’t shake his shadow. That, of course, would be Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the NHL’s prototypical shutdown man.
He’s never going to get the headlines of teammate Brent Burns or points machine Erik Karlsson – and by extension, we’re likely never going to see his name on the Norris Trophy – but Vlasic didn’t adapt his mercilessly effective defensive stylings for the attention.
“With me that’s fine, I’m doing my own thing,” he said. “I get recognized by coaching staffs, players that I play with and against.”
As an example of his excellence, just look at the advanced stats from the Washington victory. Vlasic and partner Justin Braun played 11 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey against Ovechkin and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. In that time, Vlasic and Braun destroyed the Capitals’ top line, registering a Corsi rating of 62.5 percent. Not only that, but Vlasic poured salt in the wound by scoring the opening goal of the game, which would stand as the game-winner.
So how does he do it? The answer is almost frustratingly simply.
“You have to take away time and space,” Vlasic said. “You have to trust your game and your skating. It’s not easy to do against the best players – a good stick and good positioning helps, too.”
Why doesn’t everybody do that? Well, because not everyone defenseman has the tools and range that Vlasic does. If he’s facing a quick player, like a Johnny Gaudreau or Connor McDavid, Vlasic uses his speed to keep up. A bigger player – like California rivals Anze Kopitar or Ryan Getzlaf – requires a more active stick.
“He’s an effortless skater and he’s always in the right position,” said Sharks center Logan Couture. “His stick is always in the lane. He plays hard, he plays in your face, he’s not overly physical ,but he plays tough. You don’t always notice him, but as a shutdown D-man that’s the perfect guy you want. He doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves.”
Outside of San Jose, Vlasic has gotten props from one organization – Hockey Canada. Not only was he named to the nation’s World Cup of Hockey squad, but he was one of the initial 16 picked. As we all know, Vlasic helped the team win gold in Toronto, just as he helped Canada win gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. And he probably would have won gold at the World Championship last season if he hadn’t been, ya know, busy in the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Sharks.
San Jose is off to a decent start this season, but has fallen into the occasional sinkhole. The cast is certainly there to make another run and for Vlasic, that’s the mission.
“We had a nice run,” he said. “Going to the Stanley Cup final was great and hopefully we can use that as motivation to win it this year.”
As per usual, Vlasic said this in a quiet, measured tone. And when you have a job like his, you don’t have to be loud…you just have to be effective.