Sharks Shouldn’t Put Pickles on Their Power-Play

Pickles on the Power-Play?

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

The other day, San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan joked that yours truly gets to sit at home on the computer and become an expert on the analytics. Since I’d never previously brought up analytics while interviewing him, the only logical inference to make is that McLellan is aware of my recent criticisms. Giving Vlasic just the 45th most even strength minutes in the NHL is just one of a number of personnel decisions that leave me scratching my head. Another one is why Vlasic is a mainstay on the second power-play unit, particularly over his even strength partner Justin Braun.

When he first arrived to the NHL level, Braun’s biggest strength was his ability to get pucks through to the net from the blue-line. He scored two goals (both on the power-play) and added nine assists in his first 28 NHL games during the 2010-11 season. While he certainly hasn’t continued to produce anywhere near those totals, he is clearly much more offensive minded than Vlasic. When it comes to leading the rush, jumping in on the weak side and pinching down low from the point, Braun is by far the more offensively driven player between the two.

No Love For Braun?

That said, even AHL call up Matt Tennyson got on the power-play in his first game of the season ahead of Braun. That doesn’t make much sense to me given the skill set Braun offers on the man advantage. Currently Vlasic is averaging 1:30 time ice on the power-play while Braun averages a mere 34 seconds. Against the Ducks on Saturday, it was Vlasic and Matt Irwin manning the points with Tennyson scratched. Now for the majority of the season it has been Vlasic and Jason Demers at the points on the second unit. With Demers moved onto Dallas, one would think Braun would get a more prominent role on the second unit because he is the next best offensive threat on the blue-line. A Demers-Braun duo on the second unit to start the season would have made much more sense than having Vlasic out there. Without Demers, playing Braun with Irwin or Mirco Mueller would be the best way to go. Vlasic doesn’t offer anything better offensively than Irwin, Mueller is probably a wash. Either way, Vlasic ought to be resting his legs for bigger minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill, not facilitating on the second power-play unit when there are better offensive options available.

(Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports)

In each of his first four seasons, Braun averaged over a minute of power-play time. Last year he averaged 1:01, while Vlasic has averaged 0:42 and 0:34 the last two seasons. Those totals make much more sense than their current averages. With the current parity in the NHL and teams being so close together, a goal here and there from the second unit can make a difference. Braun is much more offensively gifted than Vlasic and having him on that unit could help boost the production from that group. Furthermore, Vlasic resting during power-plays could then allow him to take an extra shift or two at even strength, perhaps a double shift here and there with Burns on the ice. After all, it is no secret that Burns is struggling in his attempt to revert back to a defenseman. 

8 thoughts on “Sharks Shouldn’t Put Pickles on Their Power-Play”

  1. I agree with this. I’ll do you one better. The idea of putting your best four forwards on the ice at the same time for the first unit power play with Burns (who it essentially a forward too) is overloading the first unit and that leaves nothing for the second unit. What McLellan should do is put Thornton, Pavelski, and Hertl with Burns and Braun on the first unit and Marleau, Couture, and someone like Brown or Torres when he returns on the second unit (to screen the goalie) or maybe Wingels or Nieto with Irwin and Mueller on the second unit. Spread the talent around a little on the power play. McLellan’s way basically reduces a two minute advantage to a one minute plus (depending on the activity level of the first unit) power play. Right now if the “first” unit doesn’t score it’s highly unlikely the second unit will either because outside of those five guys on the first unit, the other team members just aren’t scoring many goals.

    • I wouldn’t go that far Jeff, they started the year with two balanced lines and the power-play stunk, then they went with their top 5 and have since jumped to like 3rd or 4th overall. The first unit is fine the way it is, but Vlasic doesn’t belong on the second ahead of Braun.

  2. Speaking of Burns. I am sure you’ve been asked many times before, but do you think there is a chance of him going back to forward this year? Why do we need 8 defenseman right now? I would love to see Sharks acquire a free agent or a trade for another defenseman, and move Burns back to forward where he looks much more comfortable. I don’t know if it’s just me but I don’t think the coaching staff have been utilizing players to their true potential in roles where they excel.

    • I have to think if Burns continues to struggle, Doug Wilson and or Todd McLellan, whoever was the brain child behind the switch back to defense will have to admit a mistake. For whatever reason they think they are better this way, but they clearly aren’t.

  3. I agree with your points about Braun. Thanks for giving some statistical amo.

    Vlassic is a more complicated case. I think the Sharks rank 20th in the league on the power play. Pickles has had to bail the Sharks out on many short handed attempts by the opposing team, that I’m sure he always has one skate pointed towards the Sharks’ net. The Sharks are hellbent on turning the puck over on the power play, especially when they pinch their “D”.

    Is Woodcroft still in charge of strategizing the power play? If he is, then trying to anlayze the man advantage for the Sharks might yield some innacurate conclusions.

    • Appreciate the comments Gerry, the sharks power play overall is actually one of the best in the league, but Vlasic ahead of Braun on the second unit is a head scratcher.

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