San Jose authoritatively beat Nashville in the third period on Friday, thanks in no small part to the contributions of the second line. Marc-Edouard Vlasic played a phenomenal game last night, but odds are you didn't notice the veteran defender much. Usually, that's a pretty good sign.
Vlasic posted the best 5v5 corsi differential by a defender last night and played 20 minutes while picking up a secondary assist on Tomas Hertl's game-tying goal. While on the ice against the Mike Ribeiro line, Vlasic absolutely dominated while also holding his own against the top defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi as the below chart (from hockeyviz.com) shows.
The bigger the square, the more minutes the players spent on the ice together. Vlasic spent the most amount of time out against the James Neal line where he played mostly even — but he dominated every defender he played against. Brent Burns and Paul Martin played strong games, too, but you probably already knew that.
On this play, Vlasic chases Filip Forsberg down behind the Sharks' net, continues to harass him all the way to the blue line and then forces a turnover that creates an absolutely glorious scoring chances for Melker Karlsson. Vlasic can make the crafty Paul-Martin-esque play that sees him hardly move a muscle while stripping an opposing player of the puck, but he also has the speed and physical ability to make plays like this.
While Vlasic won't get much love for his offensive capabilities, he's capable of making beautiful stretch passes, too. This is just one example of the aforementioned talent from last night's game.
That pass takes the Sharks from the defensive zone to the offensive zone in about three seconds. That gives the fourth line tons of time in the Predators' zone, a key particularly late in the game when DeBoer is likely to shorten his bench up. Some of this is perception, of course, but when Vlasic makes a pass like that it appears cleverly calculated as opposed to seeing a more offensive-defender like Burns gamble on a big stretch pass like this.
Of course this isn't anything new. Vlasic led all defenders in the NHL in high-danger scoring chances for percentage with a 63.37 mark. Justin Braun, unsurprisingly, sits just below him and the next highest mark is 59.08 by Nashville's Mattias Ekholm. Vlasic's play enables the Sharks to do what they want on offense while providing a stellar release valve on defense. His calmness with the puck and expert passing ability make him the best defender on the Sharks — Norris Trophy nomination or not.