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SAN JOSE – For years, Dan Boyle was the Sharks’ power play quarterback, and the results were superb. In his first five seasons in teal, Boyle was a major reason the Sharks power play finished 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 7th from 2008-09 through 2012-13.
Last year, though, it was a struggle for Boyle and for the Sharks with a man advantage. Although generating shots wasn’t an issue, there didn’t seem to be nearly enough motion leading to prime chances. The Sharks finished 20th in the NHL on the power play at 17.2 percent, and that’s a big reason Boyle was allowed to walk as a free agent.
Enter Brent Burns. The Sharks’ versatile wild man has taken Boyle’s place on the top unit, and is a huge factor in why the power play has scored on one of every four chances (11-for-44).
The overall philosophy of the power play hasn’t changed, according to coach Todd McLellan, who still wants to see his team “shoot and get pucks back.” Now that Burns is the quarterback, though, there does seem to be more movement on that top unit, and more of a shoot-first mentality.
“Obviously [Boyle] was so good at bringing pucks up and bringing guys to him, and I think I’m a little different in the way that I shoot,” Burns said. “He’s more of a setup guy and really likes to set plays up, and I like to shoot and create space that way.”
McLellan said: “They’re different players. The physicality that Brent Burns brings is different than that of Boyler. Boyler was a more calculated offensive guy. Burns is more free-spirited. The size difference is huge. Those two areas alone make it different.”
The threat of Burns’ shot from the point opens up chances for other players, according to Pavelski. They're cashing in, but even when they fail to score, they look lethal more often than not.
"He handles the puck well, he’s got a great shot, too,” Pavelski said of Burns. “He’s beaten some goalies clean. You get that kind of presence, and it opens up a few other things down low.”
Burns for Boyle is the only real change on the top unit, which still includes Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Each of the players on that unit has five power play points this season, except for, surprisingly, Thornton, who has two.
It’s not just that top group that has been dangerous, either. Lately the second unit has been coming through, too, which is a welcome improvement from last season. Tommy Wingels has two power play goals in the last four games, and set up Tomas Hertl’s marker on Saturday against the Islanders. That unit also includes Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and one of either Justin Braun or Jason Demers.
“The power play has created a lot and now it’s getting rewarded,” Vlasic said. “We’re getting pucks to the net and we’re getting rewarded for that.”
The prime reason for their success is the same as what’s made the first unit so effective.
“On the goals we’ve scored, we’re always moving,” Vlasic said.