This writer isn't particularly fond of most coaches. Those following my Sharks content regularly over the years are well aware of that.
Whether Ron Wilson, Todd McLellan or now Pete DeBoer, there are many coach's decisions over the years that have simply boggled my mind (Mike Brown playing in a single playoff game for example, let alone Brown playing six of seven in 2014. Thanks, Todd).
Most recently, DeBoer's decision to scratch fourth line center Ryan Carpenter, when his line with Timo Meier and Melker Karlsson was crushing the competition, has not sat well with me. Carpenter is significantly more valuable than his replacement Micheal Haley.
That said, yours truly is going to try to give credit where it's due. Even if I'm never going to be a big fan of the person on the receiving end, fair is fair.
And current Sharks Head Coach Peter DeBoer deserves a lot of credit for his decisions earlier in the season to scratch veteran forwards Mikkel Boedker and Joel Ward.
Ward, Boedker & DeBoer Oh My!
Through the first few months of the season, the San Jose Sharks were struggling mightily to score goals. In fact, they were the last team to score five or more goals in a game, failing to do so until Jan. 7 in a 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
That win over Detroit was actually the first game back for Boedker after his one-game scratch against the Minnesota Wild. While the Sharks have been at or near the top of the Pacific Divsion standings all season, that Detroit victory has sparked the offense.
San Jose has scored 49 goals over their past 15 games since Boedker was scratched and the team went off against the Red Wings. That's an average of 3.26 per game, a stark increase from the previous 39 games where they scored just 97 goals for an average of 2.48 per game.
As one would expect with an uptick in goal scoring, the Sharks currently boast a satisfying 10-3-2 record over their past 15 games, having built a four-point cushion over second and third place Anaheim and Edmonton with a game in hand on each.
Not surprisingly, with the Sharks having turned up the juices on offense, two of their most highly valued veteran forwards have awoken from their comparable first half slumbers. This writer is not a fan of making key veteran players healthy scratches, but it certainly looks like DeBoer made two brilliant calls when he made both of these players sit out.
Boedker is certainly the more obvious of turnarounds as he is currently a member of San Jose's hottest line alongside Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. Prior to being scratched against the Wild, Boedker had tallied just eight points in his first 39 games with a minus-7 rating and just 45 shots on goal. In the 15 games since then, he has chipped in 11 points with a plus-11 rating and 32 shots on goal. In other words, Boedker was a .21 points-per-game scorer in the first half and has started this second half off with a .73 PPG mark. That is a fabulous turnaround. Not to mention, he's putting far more pucks on the net, averaging an entire shot per game more (1.15 to 2.13) in the second half.
Lets not forget that this is the 26-year-old Boedker's first season in San Jose after signing as a free agent in the offseason. It was expected for him to take some time to get used to the Sharks' systems---even with a regular training camp. However, the World Cup cut short his time in camp this past September as his Team Europe went all the way to the final against Canada. Not getting anywhere near a full TC means Boedker deserved even more slack for his early struggles.
As a career .47 PPG player, Boedker likely won't continue to stay as hot as he is now, but he is likely to be much closer to that .5 PPG mark over the rest of his Sharks tenure than he is to revert back to the guy who struggled in the first half.
Big Butt Wardo Back
Smart folks know that correlation doesn't always mean causation, but DeBoer definitely deserves some credit for Ward's turnaround. At the time it was far from a popular decision to scratch Ward in two of three games in mid-to-late December, but there is no denying that Ward has come on strong since his time in the press box.
In 20 games since sitting out a second time on Dec. 20, Ward has chipped in 11 points (including a big short-handed goal) and is a plus-5 over that span. Prior to his second scratch, Ward appeared in 32 games, scoring just nine points with a minus-1 rating. While his shots on goal totals have remained relatively the same, that production has seen a big time increase. Ward has gone from a .28 PPG player in his first 32 games to a .55 PPG player over the last 20. That is much more what we are used to seeing from Ward the last few years where he owns a .52 PPG over the past three seasons (2013-2015 with WSH and 2015-16 with SJ).
While one could say Boedker is riding the coattails of highly skilled linemates in Marleau and Couture, Ward has been playing primarily with Chris Tierney as his center and a bit of a revolving door on the opposite wing between rookies Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier. Ward may not be as hot points wise as Boedker, but he is the go-to performer as of late from that third line.
Deep Waters Needed for Sharks to Swim Successfully
Depth both up front and on the blue line is crucial for a long playoff run. San Jose has shown they have a deep blue line all season, and now they are getting their depth forwards producing. Praising DeBoer isn't something you'll see often at the Puck Times, but the Sharks coach deserves credit for lighting a fire under two critically important depth forwards in Ward and Boedker.