Besides the forwards, the defense has played a role in getting the Sharks to that point. One of the key blueliners in helping the Sharks create offense is Dan Boyle
Boyle is already considered one of the NHL’s premier puck movers. His offensive skills have placed him in strong consideration for a spot on Canada’s Winter Olympic team.
Last season was Boyle’s first in San Jose. His 57 points were the second-highest point total ever by a Sharks defenseman. In 2006-07, Boyle registered a career-best 63 with Tampa Bay. This year, he’s on pace to surpass those numbers.
It might still be a bit early to project season long numbers, but the Sharks are one game from the quarter pole and 25 percent of a season is a good indicator of what can happen. In the last 19 games, Boyle has 18 points. That means Boyle is on pace to score 77, which would break the Sharks record held by Sandis Ozolinsh for most points by a defenseman (63, 1993-94).
“After he scored a goal against Pittsburgh, he was even more creative,” fellow defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
said. “When his confidence is going, he does more and more. He creates a lot of offense and is playing great.”
“You go through streaks where you are playing well and when you’re not,” Boyle said. “When you’re going, you’ve got to go with it. When you’re hot and you have confidence, you ride it.”
A critical factor in Boyle’s success is he isn’t just a power play specialist.
“He does a lot on the power play and now he’s doing more 5-on-5,” Vlasic said.
For everything visible on the ice, what truly makes Boyle great is what goes on inside his head.
“For me, it’s his decisions of when to go and his ability to get back,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said.
“He can find a guy off to the side of the net and make a great play,” said Patrick Marleau
of Boyle’s ice vision.
As for the visible portions of Boyle’s game, his effortless skating with the puck starts San Jose off in an attacking mode as soon as he moves from the defensive zone.
“He has a lot of speed through the neutral zone,” McLellan said.
When Boyle hits the neutral zone and enters the attacking zone, he’s got plenty of tools to use.
“He has a lot of different looks,” McLellan said. “He has the ability to shoot the puck (make the pass) and to beat a penalty killer one-on-one.”
The forwards who benefit from Boyle’s talents know how much easier their job is when the puck easily enters the offensive zone.
“He’s one of the top defensemen in the league,” Marleau said. “He’s fast on his skates and he moves the puck for us. He’s got wheels and skill.”
“When he’s on the ice, you always feel like he’s on offense,” Joe Thornton
said. “You always want to play offense and he always wants to play offense. Teams have to watch when he’s out there.”
However, none of these offensive specific talents rank as Boyle’s top quality.
“That’s his best attribute, his competitiveness,” McLellan said. “A lot of players come through this League with talent, but they’re not as driven. It starts with his drive and he uses all his other skills.”
That competitiveness serves Boyle well as he routinely has to battle larger forwards. The reason he leads the team in minutes played is he’s about as good a defender as can be found. There’s no question Boyle physically gives his all in front of the net or in the corners.
“He’s a smaller guy, but he plays big,” Vlasic said. “He makes up for it. He’s playing really well defensively.”
“When you’re labeled an offensive guy, sometimes you’re labeled a defensive liability,” Boyle said. “I take pride in our end and in our goals-against average.”
Even though the point total is up this year, Boyle says not much has changed this season. He’s not playing any differently, but thanks to an early season injury healing, Boyle is playing his best hockey while the Sharks are without the injured Rob Blake.
For those who know how competitive Boyle is, it’s not surprising that he’s stepping up when his team needs him the most.
Everyone who played against Nashville skated in the practice at Sharks Ice at Fremont on Wednesday. Jody Shelley was also skating, but back at the Sharks practice facility.
“Jody skated at the other rink,” McLellan said. “He had treatments and skated back in San Jose.
“I’d say he’s day-to-day,” McLellan added. “I know he’s not playing tomorrow, but he’s close.”
IN JOE WE TRUST
The Sharks took their practice to Fremont to allow other fans in the Bay Area a chance to watch their favorite NHLers. Hundreds of people were there to watch and get autographs afterwards. One lucky youngster grabbed a couple of signatures before the skate and was seen showing his mom a dollar bill signed by Thornton.
The Sharks play hosts to the Dallas Stars on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com