[Editor's Note]: Mattman has a slick look at the blueline's expanded offensive role when compared to last year. Make sure to give it a hearty read.
The Sharks have seen great improvement this year with their production from their blueline as can be seen in the following charts below. This off season half our blueline was acquired in Lukowich, Blake, and Boyle added to the talented and steady Vlasic and the pairing of Murray and Ehrhoff.
2008-2009 Defenseman Report (38 Games)
2007-2008 Defenseman Report
When the new coaching staff came to San Jose there was instantly a quick change in philosophy that meant a greater influence from the blue-line in a puck possession and SOG oriented offense. It is obvious that the scoring from the blue line was not there, but the trend has definitely been reversed this year. The Sharks goal production has doubled and assists increased as well. In the SOG category, a staple of this offense, the Sharks have increased from 1.0347 shots per game to 1.4664 as a group of D-man. Hopefully we can ride these guys into the post-season.
Not even really delving deep into the statistics of the improvement I think a major think that has helped the Sharks through the first half of this season is the fact that they have remained relatively healthy. The health status has given an opportunity for a consistent environment and continuity, which creates better productivity. Five of the six D-man has played at least 35 of the 38 games and Blake and Vlasic have not missed a game yet.
I think it is obvious that Dan Boyle has been huge this season and has tremendously improved this team all around. His ability to breakout and lead the rush with his great skating ability has helped just as much as him finding the back of the net on a consistent basis. He jumps into the play and creates scoring chances and makes things happen and pinches with reason and cause. Boyle has added 12 goals through 38 games to a blue line that only obtained 21 goals in 518 combined games last year.
Rob Blake has brought a veteran presence not only to the ice and dressing room, but extending it even further than that. Off the ice he has kept our chemistry good during roadtrips by communicating with younger players and including everyone in team dinners. On the ice he has brought toughness to a team that was soft and not playoff durable in the years past. His point work is great and stick work even better, the ultimate pro. One of my major observations in Blake's play has been his knowledge of when to pinch and jump into the play and when not to do so. If you watch Ehrhoff or Murray play, you see the difference and realize they still haven't mastered when the right and wrong times are. Blake currently leads the defenseman with 20 assists and has worked very well with his partner Vlasic.
The one D-man I'm not totally satisfied with this year is Ehrhoff, although statistically he is having a good year. As TCY has pointed out many times, he does think he is a forward too many times, and unlike Boyle can't get away with it. This post is about scoring, but let me just say his puck management is terrible and he constantly makes mistakes that drive me crazy, sorry had to get that off my chest. Offensively he does have 17 points compared to a 22 point previous season, but I still think he shoots the puck too much, although I'm sure the coaching staff would disagree.
Vlasic, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, period. I even think he is unappreciated by some fans at times he is truly an amazing hockey player and deserves a ton of the credit for the way this team and blue line is playing right now. The thing that amazes most about Vlasic, is the decisons he makes out on the ice, a very smart player. He is always going to be in the right spot on the ice making a smart decision whether it be a pass of the pads or some amazing stick work, or using the net as puck protection. One of the great areas we see improvement for Vlasic is in the +/- category, not included in these charts. Last year Vlasic held a -12 while he has turned that around this year and currently sits at 17. He has racked up 20 points thus far, while only managing 14 last year.