NHL: Sharks adjust to Boyle’s absence

San Jose Sharks

Dan Boyle has been sidelined for two weeks, and nowhere has his
absence been more noticeable than when the Sharks have had the man
advantage. San Jose has stayed on a roll, winning three of four
games since the defenseman who logs more ice time than any other
NHL player suffered an upper body injury against Pittsburgh on Feb.
23. But in those games, San Jose is 1-for-12 on the power play that
he usually quarterbacks, a success rate well under half of the 22.8
percent the team averaged before he was hurt.
SAN JOSE

Dan Boyle has been sidelined for two weeks, and nowhere has his absence been more noticeable than when the Sharks have had the man advantage.

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San Jose has stayed on a roll, winning three of four games since the defenseman who logs more ice time than any other NHL player suffered an upper body injury against Pittsburgh on Feb. 23. But in those games, San Jose is 1-for-12 on the power play that he usually quarterbacks, a success rate well under half of the 22.8 percent the team averaged before he was hurt.

With Boyle likely unavailable again Tuesday night when the Sharks face the Nashville Predators at HP Pavilion, coach Todd McLellan is coming up with a new look when an opponent is in the penalty box.

Jason Demers had been taking Boyle’s spot on the top power-play unit, but Ian White had that role at Monday’s practice. McLellan shuffled his forwards as well, moving Devin Setoguchi to the first unit with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and shifting Dany Heatley to the second with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe.

The possible changes, McLellan said, were “not necessarily because Dan is out of the lineup. The power play as a whole, I think it can be sharper.”

White has played only seven games with San Jose, earning two assists since being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 19. But while recognizing White’s inexperience with the Sharks, McLellan still considers him capable of handling the expanded duties.

“That’s one of the reasons he was brought in—he has the ability to run a power play,” the coach said. “But he’s also feeling his way through. He’s not sure about some of those players’ tendencies. He’s still learning the power play system, some of the terminology.”

White will be the only true defenseman on the top power-play unit, as Joe Pavelski occupies the other point. Pavelski stressed that the recent lack of power-play success is on the entire unit, not just Boyle’s successor.

“There’s still four pieces out there that we’re used to and a system everyone is really comfortable with,” Pavelski said. “We can do a better job coming into the zone and winning battles, and there are stretches throughout the regular season when Dan’s in there that we’re not going so good, too.”

White said he is ready to take on the challenge, but doesn’t feel any pressure to be the new Dan Boyle while Boyle recuperates.

“I’m not here to play anyone else’s game other than mine,” White said. “I’ve played long enough that they know what they can expect out of me and what my attributes are.”

Demers and Justin Braun — the heralded rookie who is filling Boyle’s spot on the blue line alongside Douglas Murray — will share defense duties on the second power-play unit.

In Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars that ended San Jose’s eight-game winning streak, San Jose’s power play was 0 for 3 and gave up a short-handed goal. After the game, McLellan stressed he wasn’t holding the defensemen alone responsible for the lack of success.

“The fact is, we have people back there that can do it,” he said. “It’s not just the back end, it’s the front end. We’re pressing a little bit, trying to make some plays that aren’t there instead of looking for the obvious one.”

Before learning of his new role, Demers acknowledged there was a little bit of a learning curve all around when it came to replacing Boyle on the first unit.

“They’ve been playing with Danny all year and now I’m coming in. It’s a different style,” Demers said. “I may shoot where Danny passes in certain situations and I may pass where Danny shoots.”

Boyle, who again skated only with other injured Sharks on Monday and not the full team, had been averaging 26:44 minutes per game at the time of his injury. Most of those minutes have been taken by Braun, whose ice time has ranged from 17:30 to 20:39 in the past four games.

The rest of the time Boyle had spent on the ice has been spread among three other defenseman — Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Niclas Wallin and White. Only Boyle’s regular partner, Murray, has seen a drop in his ice time — from an average of 19:51 to just under 18 minutes per game — and that’s at least in part because he’s now paired with Braun.

Overall, McLellan has liked what he has seen from his defensemen over the past four games.

“In Boyle’s absence,” the coach said, “I think a lot of players have stepped up and given us very valuable minutes.”

— Story by David Pollak, San Jose Mercury News

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