Winning Play: How are Vlasic and Karlsson playing together?
The Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic pairing is still a work in progress.
While that isn’t the story of the San Jose Sharks’ 4-0 rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Karlsson and Vlasic perfecting their chemistry is necessary to the team’s long-term success.
It’s not quite there yet.
It’s hard to judge this Vlasic (44) pass to Karlsson (65) without being able to see Vlasic’s entire field of vision. It was cautious — a bounce pass behind the net, to keep it away from the Penguins forecheck, instead of what appeared to be a more direct connection in front of Martin Jones. But like I said, it’s hard to fault anybody in particular from this camera angle.
That said, the result was certainly not ideal. You want to put your defensive partner in the best possible position to succeed. Karlsson was expecting the pass higher; he had to go lower in the zone to receive it on his forehand. This delay allowed two, instead of just one, Pittsburgh forecheckers to converge on him. Instead of thinking offense, which is what you want Karlsson to be doing, he looked to just get it out of the zone.
This would lead to an unwanted change of possession.
On Karlsson’s side, perhaps more time with Vlasic will help him better predict his partner, and vice versa.
That’s not to say Vlasic and Karlsson show zero flashes.
This was their opening shift last night, against no less than Sidney Crosby:
Vlasic to Karlsson, quick up (00:01). Vlasic stood up the opposition before the red line (00:06). Karlsson got it back, quick up, Logan Couture (39) with an easy entry (00:11). Vlasic fired it from the point (00:30). Vlasic stood up the opposition exit (00:39). The puck — but not the Penguin — got past Vlasic, Karlsson skated back to support (00:42). Another quick up, San Jose changed lines without a Pittsburgh sniff of their offensive zone (00:45).
This is the tilted ice from Vlasic-Karlsson that everybody envisioned when the Sharks traded for Karlsson. In fairness, the pairing did dominate 5-on-5 possession earlier this season during their purported struggles.
So if Vlasic-Karlsson are a work in progress — considering this clip — imagine the finished product.