The Sharks were left with a messy sense of deja vu in the wake of Tuesday night’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes, as disparate narratives of the past five seasons rolled into one.
For one, they once again lost to the Coyotes despite a big shot advantage. Including last night, Arizona has a league-leading *six* wins against San Jose when allowing 40 or more shots and taking less than 30 since the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
Naturally, they also have more all-time wins against the Sharks under those parameters (10) than any other franchise.
Joe Thornton was also out with another knee injury, just as he was down the stretch last season. San Jose dropped to 4-5-1 on the year without Thornton, and 6-6-1 over the last two.
Of course, those three games last season came without Thornton and Logan Couture, and the Sharks have only been down one top-six forward during Thornton’s recovery this season. At least until Tuesday.
Specifically, until Tomas Hertl left with an injury of his own in the first period. Hertl’s missed nearly a full regular season’s worth of games (77) because of various injuries to his right knee, excluding the four he missed in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
He didn’t appear to injure his knee against Arizona, but his absence was felt just the same. The power play, which had especially improved since Hertl’s move to the top unit, failed to convert on all three of its opportunities after the Czech forward left the game with just 18 seconds remaining in the first period.
Head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters Wednesday morning that Hertl’s doubtful to play on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, but that the injury “isn’t as serious as it probably could have been.”
Absence, however short-term, only makes the heart grow fonder, and Hertl’s left the Sharks fondest for the most surprising narrative return of all: Brent Burns skating as a forward, a position he has not played since 2014.
DeBoer told reporters after the loss he wanted to spark the team, and it’s hard to blame him for playing that card. After all, Burns scored 68 points in 92 games in two seasons up front, and scored five-on-five points at a higher rate than many elite wingers at the time.
But that was four years ago, and Burns won a Norris Trophy in the intervening years. He’s struggled in his own zone this season, but recently started to find a defensive groove playing alongside rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan.
There are pockets of the fanbase that never wanted Burns to move back in the first place, and they may finally get their wish on Thursday, depending on Hertl’s status. They shouldn’t get their hopes up beyond that, however, as DeBoer said Wednesday that the Sharks are “way, way past” considering moving Burns to forward full-time.
Yet still, that messy deja vu persists, however temporarily. As San Jose tries to look forward, the present circumstances feel far more like it’s looking back.