NHL: Will San Jose Sharks' Red Hot Start Continue Without Injured Dan Boyle?

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NHL: Will San Jose Sharks' Red Hot Start Continue Without Injured Dan Boyle?
Tom Gannam/Getty Images
Dan Boyle was taken off the ice on a stretcher Tuesday.

The San Jose Sharks won the NHL's battle of the unbeatens in St. Louis Tuesday night, defeating the Blues 6-2. The win left Team Teal with a perfect 6-0-0 record.

But during that game, the Sharks lost one of the keys to their success, defenseman Dan Boyle. Boyle was injured when he was hit from behind near the boards by Maxim Lapierre of the Blues at the 5:22 mark of the first period.

Boyle is out indefinitely right now and the full extent of his injuries have not yet been made public. According to Louie Korac of NHL.com, Boyle remained in a St. Louis hospital overnight after Tuesday's game and returned to the Bay Area Wednesday for further tests and evaluations. That means he will not accompany the Sharks to Dallas for their game against the Stars on Thursday. It is likely he will be out of the lineup for a while after that as well.

Lapierre will have an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan at the NHL offices on Friday. That means he could be facing a suspension of at least five games for his brutal hit from behind.

But what about the Sharks? How will they carry on without their top offensive defenseman in the lineup?

While Boyle is a tough man to replace, the Sharks do have solid depth up and down their lineup and there is some good news on the way. Veteran blueliner Brad Stuart will be returning Thursday from his three-game suspension and will be back in the lineup against the Stars. That adds a steady and experienced defenseman to the San Jose lineup.

Stuart is 34 and not the same offensive player he was in his younger days, but he has plenty of power play experience. Since breaking into the NHL in 1999, Stuart has scored 29 power-play goals and accumulated 99 points with the man-advantage during his career. He was getting a lot of minutes on the power play through the 2007-08 season and has seen spot duty since then.

In addition to adding the reliable veteran in Stuart, other defensemen will see some extra power play time in Boyle's absence. In the game against the Blues, Jason Demers saw the most time on the power play with 4:30 of ice time, while Justin Braun (2:54) and Matt Irwin (2:33) also saw extra minutes as well. Coach Todd McLellan may also use a forward on the point at times as well. All of these defensemen have already accumulated at least one point on the power play this season.

Don Smith/Getty Images
Vlasic is likely to see more ice time in Boyle's absence.

The most likely defenseman to see more power play responsibility is Marc-Edouard Vlasic who is off to a solid start offensively this season. Because of all the attention Tomas Hertl has gotten early on this season, Vlasic's increased production has fallen under the radar, but the Montreal native quietly has two goals and five points in six games this season. He is also tied for the club lead among defensemen with a plus-eight rating.

Vlasic has seen substantial power-play time earlier in his career. In 2008-09, he scored three goals and 21 points on the power play and totaled 36 points overall on the season.

In the end, Boyle is likely to be replaced by committee, with Stuart and Vlasic likely to get the first opportunity to see increased time running the power play.

Granted, none of these players have the dynamic vision and experience that Boyle has, but they are experienced players who are capable of filling in on a short-term basis.

If Boyle is out for a couple of weeks, the Sharks are unlikely to see a major drop off in their performance. If Boyle is out for the long term, however, the Sharks may struggle to replace his offensive production.

But that may not mean a large drop off in wins. The Sharks still have plenty of defensemen who thrive in their own zone. While the offense is getting all the attention, the defense has allowed only nine goals in six games. The overall team defense remains formidable and will not suffer much in Boyle's absence.

San Jose should be able to carry on without Boyle for a while. One reason the Sharks are a strong team is that they don't just rely on their superstars, but have depth throughout their lineup. That depth will be tested now. The Sharks should be able to continue to be successful without Dan Boyle, even if they are a little less flashy without their power-play quarterback in the lineup.

 

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