SAN JOSE -- Dan Boyle makes no secret that it’s been a long road back from his head injury in mid-October, when Maxim Lapierre checked him into the boards from behind, knocking out the Sharks defenseman for several minutes.
It’s probably no coincidence that the power play suffered for several weeks after Boyle’s injury on Oct. 15. From Oct. 17 to Dec. 21, the power play was converting at just 15.3 percent percent. Prior to Boyle’s injury, it was 26.7 percent (8-for-30).
Lately, though, it’s improved. The power play has nine goals in its last 29 opportunities over the last nine games (31.0 percent), and for a team that has a very top-heavy five-on-five offense right now due to injuries, that’s important. If the Sharks aren't going to get many goals from their bottom two or three lines, putting it in on the power play is paramount.
"It's been going well for a little bit,” Boyle said. “There's ebbs and flows. You get cold, you get hot. We've been doing a decent job. It can always get better of course, but it's definitely better now than it was certainly three or four weeks ago."
How much of it has to do with Boyle’s improving play?
"I don't know that I'm going to take credit for it,” he said. “Obviously, I've felt better lately, and it is a part of it, but it's all of us. There's five guys out there, five guys make a difference. Whether it's me making a pass or somebody taking a shot or [Joe Pavelski] tipping it in, guys are doing their job. It's everybody."
For the last several seasons, Todd McLellan has struggled to find a second unit that can produce or even generate momentum. He even split up his top group of Boyle, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau at one point a few weeks ago.
His hand has been forced again now that Couture is out for at least three weeks, and the result was Jason Demers on one of the points on the top unit with Pavelski moving up front. Demers recorded the primary assist on Boyle’s goal against Detroit on Thursday, quickly pushing him the puck from high in the zone.
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The second unit against the Red Wings consisted of Bracken Kearns, Brent Burns and Matt Nieto up front, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun on defense.
McLellan gave Boyle some props for the improving numbers with a man advantage, but gave the evolving second unit some love, too.
“That’s a big part. I thought Jason Demers made it tick, as well. So, those two were good,” he said. “[Pavelski] up front helps, as well. But, the forgotten piece in the power play is the second unit. They are able to create chances, they are able to create time in the offensive zone. They seem to be settling in right now. As we talked earlier in the year, that’s real important for our team.”