(photo credit: Dinur Blum)
SAN JOSE- As anyone who has played the game of hockey on a regular basis knows, right-handed shooting players are the minority. And right-handed, puck moving defenseman are arguably the hardest players to find. Many NHL teams don’t even feature a single right-handed puck mover in their lineup.
Yet with two-time All Star Dan Boyle back to his usual self, Justin Braun developing into one of the best two-way defenseman in the game, and Jason Demers having a bounce back season, the San Jose Sharks have three legitimate right-handed puck moving defensemen (one for each defense pair).
Despite numerous injuries at the forward position this season, the Sharks have remained near the top of the NHL standings. And one of the main, yet overlooked reasons for their success, is a defense corps unlike any other in the league.
While San Jose’s left handed defenders leave a bit to be desired (outside of Marc-Edouard Vlasic), it is still important to note that no other team in the NHL features the right-handed strength of the Sharks.
Of the few teams whom can boast two legitimate right-handed puck movers, it’s no surprise that most are either high in the standings and/or known for strong defensive zone play.
The Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, and Nashville Predators each feature two big time right handed threats on the blue-line and while the Predators may not be a Stanley Cup contender, we all know how tough they are to play against.
That said, it’s no surprise that the Sharks, Kings, and Blues are each considered a bon-a-fide Cup contender. All three are in the top 11 in the league in goals against and all three are in the top-8 in goal differential.
But while the Kings’ have Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov and the Blues have Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Sharks have Boyle, Braun, and Demers.
Two of San Jose’s three righty defenseman are on pace for over 40 point seasons (Boyle, Demers) and for most of the season Braun has been San Jose’s ice time leader thanks to his tremendous two-way game.
“They are quarterbacks” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan on his three-headed right-handed monster. “The righties, and lefties, the matchup pairs, I know [assistant coaches] Larry [Robinson] and Jim [Johnson] really like that. It just works well for us. Jason Demers has just gotten better as the year has gone on. He feels more and more comfortable on the ice, as I mentioned in the morning he’s very committed to his defensive part of the game and as a result his offense is coming.”
Boyle, Braun, and Demers all found themselves on the score-sheet in Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings. They all love to jump up into the play, shoot the puck, and each make a strong first pass. Defensively they can each hold their own while Braun has become a defensive zone stud.
“They’re getting pucks up to us” commented Sharks captain Joe Thornton after the win. “They’re very quick right now. We want to get the puck in our hands and they’ve been doing a real, real good job.”
Joe Pavelski tallied two goals against Detroit, one of which came on an assist from Braun. The versatile forward was not shy about praising the blue-liners:
“They’ve been good, they can all skate and pass and shoot. When they’re moving the puck and skating, we’re pretty good.”
“Both Brauner and Jason are playing real well right now” added Boyle who buried a power-play tally on a feed from Demers. “I don’t know that their skill level got better but just their confidence. Their confidence is a lot better than it was a couple years ago and you can just tell by the way they’re playing. They are both playing extremely well. The way the games played now, you need guys [back there] who can move, who can skate, and help out on the back end.”
The fact that the Sharks have three right-handed puck movers allows for clean defensive zone breakouts on a consistent basis.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson and his scouting staff get a lot of flack for what some perceive as a lack of organizational depth but they deserve major credit for putting together one of the most well-balanced blue-lines in the league.
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