SAN JOSE -- Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn't need to read a stat sheet to say this year's Sharks team is as committed to playing defense as any team he's played on since he came to San Jose eight seasons ago.

"We changed our identity and I think it's the most complete team we've had," Vlasic said Tuesday. "Everybody's playing together, we're playing fast and hard. Everybody's committed to D-zone."

With goalie Antti Niemi off to a Vezina Trophy-caliber start, Vlasic and Justin Braun playing like a top-tier defensive pairing and the team's forwards helping to limit opposing shots on net, the Sharks through the first month of the season have become one of the best defensive teams in the NHL.

Going into Wednesday's contest against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose (10-1-1) is second in the league in goals against at 1.58 per game, and has allowed just 14 even-strength goals and 20 goals overall in 12 contests. On the first four games of this trip, San Jose yielded just four goals with Niemi collecting two shutouts.

Through the first 12 games of the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, and without the benefit of a full training camp, the Sharks allowed 26 goals in their first 12 games. During the 2011-12 season, and with the benefit of a full training camp, San Jose allowed 34 goals in the first dozen contests.

"We're playing real tight, and when we need to block shots, guys are blocking shots," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "Nemo's there to stop the shots that get through. We feed off playing good defense, and that's usually how we play well on offense."

The Sharks' transition to one of the best defensive teams in the NHL began midway through the lockout-shortened campaign. The north-south style they adopted emphasized getting pucks out of their own zone as quickly as possible to limit sustained pressure by opposing teams.

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 26:  Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks strips the puck from Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 26: Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks strips the puck from Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 26, 2013 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Sharks defeated the Canadiens 2-0. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images) ( Richard Wolowicz )

As a byproduct, San Jose this season is second in the NHL behind Minnesota in shots allowed per game at 24.5 and Niemi is second among No. 1 goalies with a 1.53 goals-against average.

Vlasic and Thornton said that with everyone knowing what their role is on the defensive end, it's made it easier for the Sharks to absorb injuries to Raffi Torres, Adam Burish and Marty Havlat, and more recently to Dan Boyle and Brent Burns.

"Everybody just knows what to do defensively, so it definitely helps getting pucks out of our end, and you just turn it into quick offense," Thornton said. "So it doesn't matter who's really injured, guys have bought into the program and we're just playing at a high tempo."

Sharks associate coach Larry Robinson, the NHL's all-time plus-minus leader at plus-730, has been particularly impressed with the play of Vlasic and Braun. Although they are usually matched against the opposing team's top line at even strength, entering Tuesday Vlasic and Braun were in a four-way tie for the league lead at plus-11.

With nine points, Vlasic is looking more and more like he'll be a part of Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics. According to Robinson, Braun also is making a case.

"We mention Eddie a lot, but he and Braun make a tremendous duo as far as a shutdown pair," Robinson said. "The two of them, when they start talking about Olympics and everything else, I'm surprised that Brauner's not mentioned in the same breath as Eddie. The two of them have been key players for us since the start of the year."

  • Robinson, filling in for coach Todd McLellan, who flew straight to Los Angeles for a personal commitment after the Sharks played in Ottawa on Sunday, said the coaching staff will likely decide at game time whether Boyle or Havlat play against the Kings.

    Both players practiced Tuesday, but Robinson said the team will use caution as it decides if either will play. Boyle has missed the past six games and Havlat, coming off pelvic surgery in June, has not played at all this year.

  • Niemi had a doctor's appointment and missed Tuesday's practice but should be fine to play Wednesday, Robinson said.

  • Burns, who has not played since Oct. 18 against Calgary with a mouth injury, also did not practice and appears doubtful for Wednesday's game. Robinson said Burns did some light skating before practice and was feeling better.

    WEDNESDAY'S GAME

    Sharks (10-1-1) at Los Angeles (8-5-0), 7:30 p.m. CSNCA