SAN JOSE- It’s not often that you hear someone say a rookie (in any sport) is making a veteran All-Star better with his presence. But when it comes to the San Jose Sharks, rookie defenseman Matt Irwin has made Dan Boyle better.
Irwin, who played parts of seven games to start the season as Boyle’s primary defense partner, heard of his possible re-call to the Sharks over the weekend.
“I found out yesterday” confirmed Irwin at Tuesday’s morning skate. “They kind of hinted at it on Sunday night and then it was official yesterday and I flew up right away.”
In nine games with Irwin in the lineup between Jan. 20 and Feb. 5, the Sharks went 7-2. Largely that success was due to a red-hot power-play that has since gone into witness protection. So no, we can’t connect the hot start solely with the presence of a rookie defender.
But it can’t be ignored that Boyle has played his best games while paired with Irwin at even strength. While plus/minus and shots aren’t the best parameters, Boyle did put 20 pucks on net in seven games with Irwin, and only 16 in the eight games without him. Furthermore, Boyle was even in plus/minus with Irwin and is a minus-5 without him.
Irwin, unlike Boyle’s other defensive partners has played big time power-play minutes in his recent career. And albeit those have come at the AHL level, Irwin has showed an impressive skating ability and two-way game both with Worcester and in his nine games with San Jose.
Everyone knows that Boyle likes to jump up into the play, he is one of the best in the league at doing just that. However, when it comes to breakouts and offensive zone pressure, it has been beneficial for Boyle to have a somewhat similar offensive mind next to him on the blue-line this year.
At least this season, Boyle and Irwin together have been visibly sharper on the breakout than the pair of Boyle and anyone else, be it Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart or Justin Braun.
Boyle certainly had only good things to say about Irwin’s abilities after the morning skate.
“He’s a good player, it’s his first year but he did really well for us [early on]” commented the veteran. “I’m not sure the situation whether he’s playing tonight or not but certainly he’s a smart player, he can skate well and make a good pass.”
Skating well and making good first passes have been troublesome for the Sharks during their recent woes. Transition game and defensive zone breakouts have haunted the Sharks and has hurt the offensive development. Irwin’s talents in those areas should help out, especially if he takes the lineup space of Douglas Murray, whom has struggled mightily in said areas.
Despite being in the AHL, Irwin said he’s been able to follow the big club in his absence and hopes he can help change the momentum.
“I watched every game” chimed the rookie. “I know what’s going on and we need to get back in the winning column. We want to play fast and that starts with clean breakouts, good first pass, good second pass and away you go.”
While McLellan wouldn’t tip his hat on whether or not Irwin will play against the Avalanche, the rookie did score his first career NHL goal against them earlier this season. He also blocked six shots in that Jan. 26 tilt as well, arguably his best overall performance with the big club.
Therefore, if you ask those of us in the media, most of us would be shocked if Irwin doesn’t get in the lineup tonight against Colorado. Especially the way McLellan talked so highly of the 25-year-old this morning.
“He did have some success [with Boyle], he’s one of our dmen who has scored from the back-end.” noted McLellan. “He has a very good shot, finds a way to get it through most of the time which is a real positive thing and Boiler’s best games were probably played with him. As we move forward, we’ll look at that pair again.”
If Irwin does play, chances are it will be next to Boyle and with Brent Burns out of the lineup, the defense pairs that make the most sense in this writer’s opinion would be as follows:
For more on the Sharks you can follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch or on the Google plus page “San Jose Sharks Blog Inside Hockey”