When people have raved about the San Jose Sharks’ depth recently, they’ve focused up front. It’s easy to forget, especially with Erik Karlsson hurt, how good the Sharks also have it on the backend.
Radim Simek has helped Brent Burns to another Norris Trophy-worthy campaign. Tim Heed has filled in ably for Karlsson alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Meanwhile, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun have formed an enviable “bottom” pairing.
There aren’t many bottom pairings capable of limiting Patrick Kane, as Dillon and Braun helped do in San Jose’s 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. The tandem played more against Kane at 5-on-5 than any other pairing.
“There’s only a few guys in the league that you have to give a little respect to, that you can’t go running at, being too aggressive,” said Dillon of Kane. “He can pass, shoot, he’s one of the most dangerous guys in the league.”
So how did Dillon and Braun manage to contain Kane?
Dillon noted, “You want to take away his speed, close the gap on him.”
Kane (88) attacked the center lane, but Dillon (4) didn’t overcommit, using skating and stick to force Kane to cut to the outside, slowing him down.
Dillon made himself wide, outstretched stick cutting off the center of the ice. Crowding a stationary Kane up high, he eventually took the winger’s options away and forced him back to the blueline.
It’s important, in a moment of weakness, to strike: Dillon took advantage of a Kane puck bobble to step up and bat it away. Of course, the best way to prevent speed from building is to not even allow it to start.
Dillon continued, “He’s really good at getting lost too. Whether it’s in the neutral zone or in the defensive zone. He has the tendency to be able to get behind you, in those scoring areas. Having your head on a swivel is a big thing.”
Dillon halted a possible Kane breakaway here.
Of course, there’s a balance. It’s not all eyes on Kane.
“You got to be aware, but you can’t just key on him for the entire shift,” Dillon pointed out. “We had a couple shifts where we were able to hem them in their d-zone. Whether that was us as D-men pinching down or getting our gaps on him.”
Obviously, stopping Kane isn’t a one-man, or even a two-man operation.
Dillon agreed, “It’s a collective effort.”
Braun’s (61) feet and stick kept Kane to the outside. Meanwhile, Dillon was tight on Jonathan Toews (19) and Tomas Hertl (48) watched Chris Kunitz (14). Kane looked over, hoping for a pass into the slot, but the Sharks had it well covered.
Instead, Kane surrendered it to his perimeter option, Gustav Forsling (42). That’s not a bad defensive result when dealing with a Kane. Joe Pavelski (8) made a big block on Forsling.
“You don’t limit those guys without a team effort. Your forwards have to defend, your defensemen have to defend,” added Peter DeBoer.
Mistakes will happen too, especially against players of Kane’s caliber. It’s about limiting them, recovering from them and, sometimes, a little luck.
Toews stepped into a Pavelski pass at the blueline, sparking a Blackhawks’ three-on-one. A potentially lethal Kane pass, however, hopped over Toews’ blade.
One mistake shouldn’t lead to another though, and it doesn’t here.
Toews retrieved the loose puck.
But Dillon didn’t lose Kane, intercepting a Toews pass. Then Dillon pushed the play the other way.
Per Natural Stat Trick, Dillon registered a 68.75 Corsi for percentage, 77.78 scoring chances for percentage and 83.33 high-danger Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5 against Kane.
“We have the confidence to be able to skate with him and shut him down,” said Dillon.
Not many teams have that confidence to match their third pairing, last change at home, against a superstar.
In Karlsson’s absence, Dillon, Braun and Burns have taken the bulk of the shifts at 5-on-5 against the likes of Kane and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. This with Vlasic, still considered to be one of the better defensive defensemen in the world, under relative wraps.
Now that’s depth.