Hockey is a very flexible sport. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan, like all National Hockey League head coaches, can move forwards to different lines when necessary.
On the backend however, McLellan may alter who he has in certain situations, but he’ll rarely break up a pairing. Short of the Worcester assignments of Derek Joslin and Jason Demers
, along with the new possibility of Jay Leach becoming part of the rotation, McLellan has been consistent.
He hasn’t changed the parings much because partners know each other. The last thing a team wants is confusion on defense.
“It makes you more comfortable and when you’re more comfortable, you’re more confident,” McLellan said.
“When you handle a 3-on-2, everyone is a little surer when they know what their guy is doing,” veteran defenseman Rob Blake said.
That confidence allows players to be even better at their own specialties because they don’t need to worry about their partner.
“Players develop tendencies,” McLellan said. “If you’re continually playing with a partner, you’re aware of what will happen in certain situations and you can act accordingly. There’s a lot of talking and if you know what they’re gong to call, it (helps with the connection).”
And some players work better with others. Potential pairings could be a stay-at-home type with an offensive-minded player. Or a veteran may work with a younger player to help him develop. Or a coach may have two defenders with similar skills on the ice. Finally, a coach may want to have a right hand shooter with a left hander.
For now, McLellan’s defensive pairings include Dan Boyle
and Douglas Murray
; Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic
; and Kent Huskins and Jason Demers
/Derek Joslin/Jay Leach.
For Boyle and Murray, it’s the opposites attract syndrome. Boyle is the creator who can free-wheel up and down the ice. Murray is a true stay-at-home rugged blueliner. It’s been successful so far.
“We feel confident with Boyle as a puck mover and Murray keeping teams honest because he is physical,” McLellan said.
Even with their opposite natures offensively, the pairing truly works because they are both such competitors in their own end.
“First of all, it’s a lot of fun playing with him,” Murray said of being with Boyle. “He has an unorthodox style, but it opens up a lot of space for me. I’m not the most talented offensively, but I get more involved with him out there. As much as he’s all over offensively, he doesn’t give up offensive (chances). He has a competitive nature and there’s a lot of mutual respect. We talk a lot before and during games about how to get things done.”
The Blake-Vlasic partnership is the pairing of a future Hockey Hall of Famer with someone who’s developing into one of the NHL’s best pure defenders.
“They’ve developed a player partnership,” McLellan said. “They have a tendency to play their best with each other.”
Over the past two seasons, their success is due in part to their reads off each other.
“I don’t like reverses a lot and ‘Pickles’ understands that,” Blake said. “He gets those kinds of reads. We like it simple: get it up and out. That way we can actually get in the rush. I can leave him on that side and not worry about it. He’s easy to play with.”
As for Huskins and what has most recently been Joslin, they just have a unique relationship.
“They’ve developed a feel for each other,” said McLellan of Huskins and his partners adjusting to each other on the fly. “We’re dealing with three inexperienced NHL defensemen and this is Kent’s first experience on our team.”
“’Jos’ is just a really solid player,” Huskins said. “Since coming here, he’s been great. He’s really smart playing the puck and a great skater. We’re not overly offensive, but we jump in once in a while. We’re similar. Having a similar style makes it easier. It’s a gradual process, but we’re getting a better feel.”
The consistency on the backend, along with solid goaltending, once again has the Sharks among the top-10 in goals-against average.
The players only did off-ice workouts on Tuesday at their Sharks Ice at San Jose practice facility.
The Sharks will play hosts to Anaheim on Thursday and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.