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Quick Thoughts: Why Kane-Couture-Labanc Work, Vlasic Plays Career-Low



Credit: NBCS Bay Area

How good can the San Jose Sharks be if Erik Karlsson is at his best?

We got a glimpse of that last night in San Jose’s 6-2 victory over Colorado.

Statistically speaking, Karlsson didn’t dominate – he potted one goal and graded out negatively in most publicly-available underlying stats – but more often than not, he was in control of the game’s tempo whenever he was on the ice.

“He’s doing those things with the puck that we’re used to seeing him do,” Bob Boughner said. “You can see he’s exploding out of traffic. He’s got that separation speed back in his game. He’s been a real confident player.”

I’m not sure if it was a $11.5 million dollar performance – but it was pretty close. I believe the San Jose Sharks can be a post-season squad if Karlsson continues to play like this.

I’ll take a deeper look at Karlsson’s game in my “Winning Play” article later today.

Line Chemistry

Another reason to be optimistic if you’re a San Jose Sharks fan?

The perhaps real chemistry of the Evander Kane-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc line.

Since this trio was put together on Feb. 5, they’ve notched 17 goals and 33 points in 10 games, and often matched up against the opposition’s top line.

Now these aren’t video game – or Nathan MacKinnon line – numbers, but they’ve been consistently dangerous, even when they’re not scoring. For what it’s worth, the trio boasts a robust 65.34 Expected Goals For % at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. This means, basically, that they’re earning a lot more chances than they’re giving up, which is doubly impressive on this generally average San Jose squad.

And to the eye, each player on this line brings something different to the table.

Couture agreed: “We all have different styles of play.”

Labanc is – wait for it – on a 52-point full-season pace right now, which is about what Doug Wilson projected when signing the winger to a derided four-year extension last October.

“Banker’s really worked hard on this two-way game,” Boughner offered. “I think you could see he’s got a nose for the puck. He’s working hard. He’s never forechecked like he’s forechecking right now. “

Couture added: “Banker sees the ice really well. He thinks the game well.”

Kane has rebounded from early-season penalty trouble and a season-low 14:19 played against the Avs on Jan. 28. Consistency has been a career-long issue for Kane, so I don’t expect his recent productivity – he’s piled up seven points in his last four games – to continue, but he’s been probably the Sharks’ best player over the last couple of weeks.

“He’s a big powerful man on the pocket and he gets a lot of room out there,” Boughner said. “We count on him to be one of our best players every night. The one thing we talked about with his game was consistency, a little better discipline, but without taking the physicality out of his game. I think he’s done a great job of all three.”

Meanwhile, the centerman Couture is the glue guy. While his full-season 47-goal pace isn’t going to last, you know what you’re going to get from him every night – 200 feet of effort and plenty of smarts.

“I’m slower than Kaner. I think the game well as well. So, kind of find those holes,” Couture noted. “We’ve been reading off each other pretty well.”

“They got a little bit of everything,” Boughner said.

Vlasic Still Struggles

Marc-Edouard Vlasic started the night with Karlsson. That’s not where he ended it though, as he was shuffled onto various pairings, on his way to a career-low 13:08 played.

That’s right – not counting six career games that Vlasic played under 10 minutes because of injury, last night was the least that the 2014 Olympian has ever played in a regular season contest.

Boughner challenged Vlasic to elevate his play before the game but took a more conciliatory tone afterwards.

“I thought Pickles was pretty solid. On the first goal, his angle might have been off a little bit. But I thought he dug in defensively tonight,” he offered. “We need him to keep improving and keep getting better. And I really trust he will.”

The proof, however, is in the playing time.

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