A Silent Savior
Dainius Zubrus is not a star player for the San Jose Sharks. He doesn’t score beautiful goals, he doesn’t make incredible passes, and he certainly isn’t in the running to be on the cover of NHL 17. His presence, however, is vital to his team’s success; he is a veteran skater who plays mistake-free hockey night in and night out.
Zubrus had a great night during Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues, registering one goal and one assist on top of his plus-4 corsi differential. But while the offensive production and possession dominance is nice, it’s not why the Lithuanian is important to San Jose. Rather, it is his skilled defensive play.
The Defensive Numbers
The fourth-liner finished the season with a plus-4 rating and 68 hits while eating up 11:35 of time each night. He also earned three goals and four assists in 50 games. Not astonishing, but not terrible either. This is a complete turnaround from the days of Mike Brown, John Scott, and Adam Burish.
Let’s take a look at how good Zubrus really is defensively:
Zubrus had the third-best defensive season of his 19-year career in 2015-16. The Sharks controlled about 59 percent of high-danger scoring chances while he was on the ice and allowed just eight high-danger scoring chances against for every 60 minutes he skated (that equates to about 1.5 per individual game). This is in addition to his almost-even 49.7 corsi-for percentage throughout the season. Those are quality numbers, especially for a fourth liner.
The Eye Test
Beyond the numbers, Zubrus also passes the eye test. He looks composed on the ice, he finishes his hits, and he is positionally perfect. Simply put, Zubrus is somebody who plays simple hockey; he always makes the smartest, safest play, and he does so effectively.
He also uses his size well, as his 6-foot-5, 225-pound body is perfect for grinding it out on the boards and delivering heavy hits. He uses this to his advantage in numerous situations, including on the forecheck and on the penalty kill, which is why his defensive numbers are so strong.
Basically, Zubrus looks exactly like what really he is: a former top-six forward who has aged his way out of elite play, but still has the hockey sense of an elite player. It’s hard to complain about a team’s depth when they have someone like him anchoring the fourth line.
A Complete 180
As I mentioned before, having Zubrus on the fourth line is a drastic change from having the likes of Scott, Brown, and Burish on the roster. In fact, San Jose has strong forward depth for the first time in a while, with Zubrus, Nick Spaling, and Tommy Wingels rounding out the bottom group. They are a line with strong defensive play that can withstand the storm of a skilled or desperate team with relative ease.
No Sharks fan would have ever wanted the fourth line out in a tight game last year. Now, it is an acceptable and welcomed practice so long as San Jose isn’t trailing. They can kill the clock, grind it out, and wear the other team down on a nightly basis. Because of this, Teal Town has a legitimate chance at winning the Stanley Cup.