Sharks Gameday: Allocating Minutes, Minutes, Hey, Hey



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The Tennessean

With Dan Boyle still recovering from an upper body injury and likely to miss his fifth straight game tonight (David Pollak is reporting that he did not practice with the team yesterday), the inevitable question that is raised is how it has effected San Jose's minute allocation.

Filling Boyle's skates, to put it lightly, is a near impossible task-- he leads the NHL in time on ice with a whopping 26:44 played per game, contributing in every conceivable situation a coach could ask of him from even strength to the power play to the penalty kill. Boyle is essentially the engine that drives the Sharks blueline to where it needs to be, the biggest minutes eater on a team filled with some mammoth names and resumes.

Since Boyle went down in the dying seconds of the third period against Pittsburgh the Sharks have gone 3-1-0, a more than respectable record for a team missing an essential piece. Backed by the strong play of Antti Niemi, who has essentially been the genesis for San Jose's turnaround after their six game losing streak in the middle of January, the team hadn't skipped a beat until blowing a third period lead to the Dallas Stars on Saturday. It stands to reason that the longer Boyle is out the harder the task will be to continue winning games at their current pace, but so far so good-- the gravy has kept coming, the train is still runnin'. There's just a conductor by committee back there right now. Which, when one considers the concern over "Boyle burnout" that has entrenched itself in the city's collective consciousness, will be a good thing provided the injury a) doesn't come with fears of re-aggravation and b) isn't a serious ailment that will effect him down the stretch.

A player such as Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has been a prominent fixture on San Jose's blueline for years now, is a likely candidate to replace Boyle's departure from minute-munching duty. The recently acquired Ian White also comes to mind as another player who will benefit-- defensive pairings in the NHL are something that take time to develop, and the more in-game ice time White has with his teammates, the more comfortable he will be going forward when it comes to schemes and recognizing situations that require either a pinch or a hasty retreat into the neutral zone.

However, the biggest beneficiary of the lack of Dan Boyle has been Jason Demers, specifically on the power play.

Defensive Minutes Since Boyle Injury

10-11 TOI
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
4 1:53
23:31 20:49
Jason Demers
4 3:14
22:25 19:30
Ian White
4 2:22
Justin Braun
4 0:44
Douglas Murray
4 0:02 1:14 16:40 17:57 19:46
Niclas Wallin
4 0:00 0:56 16:00 16:57 15:43

What we've seen since Boyle went out is really in line with what you would expect-- McLellan has bunched up his minutes and distributed them more evenly due to the fact that he suddenly doesn't have a reliable workhorse on the backend that you can lean on in every situation. Boyle, who has been out on the ice for the full two minutes on the man advantage a la Alexander Ovechkin a few times this season, is your main power play quarterback, so those duties fall to the guy next in line. And up until tonight, that's been Demers.

However, it seems as if that might change. With the Sharks 1 for their last 12 on the power play McLellan has bumped Ian White up to the top unit alongside Joe Pavelski (who has lots of experience playing defense with the man advantage), sending Demers down to the second unit to play with Justin Braun.

What's interesting is the amount of ice time Braun has seen on the power play in the last four games. Saturday's tilt with the Stars was the first time he saw a regular shift in this situation, and his line goes as such-- 0:00 against Calgary, 0:45 against Colorado, 0:00 against Detroit, and 2:12 against Dallas. For a player that brings a lot to the table offensively you'd have to expect him to begin to get more time in this situation, especially considering Vlasic (who has averaged 1:53 in the last four games) is by no means an offensive stallion, withers or not you believe he can bring more to his offensive mane, er, game.

Furthermore, McLellan has shown a previous willingness this season to give Braun a lot of defensive zone starts in tough situations (he led the team in late December). There's a lot of trust in him from the coaching staff, and considering his play over these last four games, that trust is well-deserved. With the Sharks in a position where they are able to highlight some potential postseason contributors considering both Boyle and Huskins are out, Braun should get all the opportunity in the world to continue to prove himself down the stretch.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Couture, White, and Marleau.