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Defense On The Offensive

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have scored 12 goals in the past two games. A large part of that success stems from the blueline.


All six defensemen who have played in three or more games have recorded at least one point and they are making offensive contributions throughout the game. Sometimes, it’s highlight-level worthy and sometimes it’s smart simple passes. But without the Sharks defensemen, the offense would have a difficult time against the Kings forecheck.

Dan Boyle, Douglas Murray, Ian White, Niclas Wallin, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all finding ways to contribute.

San Jose Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, left, celebrates his goal along with defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic during the second period in Game 4 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoffs hockey series against the Los Angeles Kings, Thursday, April 21, 2011, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
“Lots of times, it’s in our hands to get the puck to the net and it’s almost always in our hands to get it to the forwards,” Vlasic said. “Especially breaking out of our zone. Less zone time in our end and more in their end usually weighs the scales in your favor at the end of the night. All the D we have are great competitors and all can handle the puck well. It’s great to see everyone chipping in. It takes a little pressure off the forwards.”

Receiving the puck correctly can let the forwards begin moving with some speed.

“For the D-men, the quicker we move it up, the quicker we’re on offense and the more chances you have to contribute,” Vlasic said. “I think everybody is contributing. We’re getting pucks through. It’s nice the D-men can contribute with the offensive power we have.”

The first outlet pass from the defense is one of the more underrated skills in the game. The most talented forwards in the National Hockey League can be rendered useless if the puck can’t exit the defensive zone properly.

“They’re trying to get their forecheck going and if we get hemmed in our zone, it feeds their momentum and their game,” Patrick Marleau said. “Our guys have been doing a good job of getting back, getting to pucks and moving it out of our zone. As soon as they get it, it’s off their stick to us and we’re moving. It’s hard to defend.”

In the offensive zone, San Jose’s blueliners are forcing pucks to the net, which is allowing for some juicy rebounds.

San Jose Sharks' Dan Boyle, left, celebrates with Joe Thornton after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 4, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
“We’ve been finding a way to get our shots through the last two games,” Boyle said. “In Game 2, I think we had 24 or 25 shots blocked.”

The forwards who get a lot of the glory are appreciative of the defensive efforts and know where credit is due.

“We said at the start of the playoffs we need contributions from everybody and our D have really done a good job both in our own end and offensively,” Dany Heatley said. “Both power play units are getting good looks and a lot of that has to do with the defense.”

“We need those guys to be offensive,” Logan Couture said. “If all our defensemen are getting points, it takes pressure off the forwards as well.”

White has made a difference. He’s second among NHL defensemen in playoff points with five in just three games. Not bad for his first postseason stint.

“The pickup of Whitey was a great deal. He’s stepped up huge for us,” Couture said. “He’s offensively gifted and good in his own zone.”

Boyle has been his usual spectacular self, setting up some plays that basically uses the forward’s stick like a pool table for a bank shot.

“Not too many defensemen in the NHL can make plays like that,” Couture said. “We expect that from Boyler. He’s a great player. For people outside of our team, they might be exceptional plays, but for us it’s the normal Dan Boyle play.”

Those may be the eye-popping plays, but it was a simple outlet by Wallin in Game 3 that allowed Marleau to set Devin Setoguchi up on the overtime-winner.

There isn’t one blueliner willing to sacrifice their play on the defensive side of the puck. But they know, like the forwards, they have to multi-task and enjoy the offensive chances when they come.

“For me personally I pick my spots. When the opportunity is there, we’ll jump in,” Vlasic said. “You want to help out any way you can. It’s fun to play on offense.”

Boyle, a stat sheet regular, enjoys seeing Murray, Wallin, Vlasic and Demers fill the score sheet a little.

“I love it,” Boyle said. “Come playoff time, you need secondary scoring and it’s not just from the third and fourth lines. You need your defensemen to chip in and Jason got a huge goal for us and Pickles got involved offensively (in Game 4). You need that. It can’t be just one or two guys or one or two lines.”

When games and series are decided, the D-corps will have a big say in the Sharks ability to advance.

“Our D is going to be a major factor in all our wins,” Marleau said. “We need to get pucks through, then the forwards need to get to the net to get rebounds.”

A DAY OFF, SORT OF
All but a few regulars took a day away from the ice to focus on Saturday’s Game 5.

“I think at this point of the year, we know what we’re supposed to do,” Boyle said. “It’s about resting on the off days. The guys that need to go out there go out. Most of us took the off day and will try to get ready to lay it on the line tomorrow night.”

“Needing rest,” Coach Todd McLellan stated about having the day off. “We’ll deserve rest if we’re able to win four games in a series. By then, we’ll deserve it. The need for rest is very important at this time of the year. We can all visually see how hard the games are being played right now. There’s also the mental part too, so it can be taxing.”

CLOSING IN
Just like all clubs in their situation, the Sharks would love to close out the Kings at home without having to travel back to Southern California for a potential Game 6 on Monday.

“We’re at home. We don’t want to have to get back on a plane and go out there and fight for another 60- plus minutes,” Boyle said. “You want to take care of business when you can. When you can put a team away, you put them away.”

HAVING THE TIME OF HIS LIFE
White continues his strong playoff debut, having scored a point in all three games he’s played and having been part of the winning side in all three of his Stanley Cup Playoff games.

“It’s better when you’re on the winning side. This is outstanding,” White said. “I’m sure I’m not going to win out from here, but it’s been so much fun.”

GAME ON!
Game 5 will take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.

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