The Sharks defense is a collection of veterans who are in the right place, and the best offensive defenseman in the west. It's hard to understate how good Brent Burns is, but the remainder of the defense cements the Sharks' identity. Justin Braun, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, and Paul Martin may not be the flashiest of defenders, but they are more than effective.
For starters, let's look at their pairings and icetime.
There may not be a more under-appreciated defender than Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. Don't expect a ton of offense coming from him, but he allows the Sharks to resume their normal structure on defense. With Vlasic returning from injury for the playoffs, expect their pairings to be as follows:
With Roman Polak on the third pairing, that's given the Sharks more balance with their second and third pairings. Check out their icetime as the season went on:
Just for the sake of comparison, here is the Nashville version of the icetime chart. Notice the stark contrast.
As far as the on-ice deployment goes, the Sharks lean on Vlasic and Braun to do the heavy lifting. Polak and Dillon will play against the lesser competition when available, but their deployment is very balanced.
The Sharks defensemen play a similar game to the Ducks, except one major difference: Brent Burns. This isn't a shocker, but Burns has taken more than 100 more shots on net during 5v5 play than any other defenseman. And of Burns 27 goals, only 7 of them came on the power play. The addition of Paul Martin has elevated the Wookie's game and helped him put up career-best numbers.
What does all this mean?
The Sharks do lean on Vlasic and Braun for their tighter defensive situations. The Sharks don't give up a lot of lot of high-danger chances, and their defensive structure allows their forwards to generate offense and leave the zone. The Sharks generated more high-danger chances than any other team this season, and this is in part due to their defense providing support for their forwards both on the rush and a smart cycle game.
If the Predators are going to win this series, they'll need to find a way to get to the middle of the Sharks defense much like in games 6 and 7 versus Anaheim. Period. That's how you win playoff games. The trouble is that San Jose is great at defending this type of play. But as we've seen with Nashville and Anaheim, only one team can effectively play this strategy during the game. The Ducks were committed to their own shell during games 3 and 4, while Nashville did so to come back and take the series. San Jose knows where to be on the ice, and this will be a true test of the Preds resolve.