Braun gives Sharks luxury on defense


Braun gives Sharks luxury on defense

SAN JOSE We touched on this topic a bit this morning on Sharks Talk, and Fridays practice offered the opportunity to follow up on defenseman Justin Brauns strong play. The 24-year-old has been getting close to 20 minutes a game lately, after not even making the opening night roster.

Braun spent most of Thursday nights win over the Wild paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He played 19:23 in all, including 3:21 on the power play. To put that in perspective, prized offseason acquisition Brent Burns played 19:34, with 4:07 of that on the power play.

Nearly identical numbers. And thats not a knock on Burns, but a credit to Braun.

KURZ: Is Braun taking minutes from Burns?

I mentioned to McLellan that having Braun in the fold, adding to the teams defensive depth, must feel like a real luxury.

Isnt it nice? And its something we wanted, he said, somewhat emphatically. Just like Logan Couture did last year. Somebody to come in and take jobs, and steal time away. That push from underneath to the top is so valuable. It keeps everybody honest.

McLellan mentioned on Thursday that he sees a more confident Braun as compared with last season. I asked Braun what he himself thinks the difference is.

The comfort level, and just knowing what to expect every night, he said. Not wondering what other teams are going to bring, but just going out and playing my game.

Braun pointed out that the reason hes more confident is a two-way street. The coaching staff is showing him how secure they are in his ability, by upping his ice time which, in turn, makes him even more self-assured.

You want to be out there, and you feel like when youre playing those kind of minutes, theyre getting more confident in you which helps you on the ice, he said. If you maybe make a mistake, youre going to get a little bit more of a chance instead of getting sat down quickly.

His current partner, Vlasic, also sees a teammate improving before his very eyes.

Hes doing great. He got called up for a reason and is staying for the simple reason that hes playing well, said Vlasic. Hes even on the second power play, and sometimes the first one. Hes doing great things, hes getting pucks to the net, hes playing hard and playing well.

The flip side is that defensemen Jason Demers and Jim Vandermeer will have to wait to get back into the lineup. Demers has played in just two of the last nine games, while Vandermeer has sat for six of the previous seven.

McLellan admits he worries a bit about those players who are being forced to watch from the press box.

But, thats just the nature of the business.

Those guys, are very, very good players and they are very important, he said. But, until we have a bump in the road and until it falters, we like what were doing on the back end.

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles


Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

Over the last three years, Brent Burns played with only one defensive partner more in a single season than he has with Joakim Ryan in 2017-18.

That partner, of course, is Paul Martin, who’s missed all but two games this season due to complications from offseason ankle surgery. Martin is set to miss yet more time after experiencing a setback in his recovery, although the injury is not related to his ailing ankle, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Martin’s absence, combined with the fact that Burns has gone 20 games without a goal this season, has naturally led to questions about whether their separation is causing Burns to struggle.

That’s not the case.

Burns is actually playing a bit better alongside Ryan than he was with Martin. In just over 257 minutes together at even strength, the Sharks have controlled 55.74 percent of the shot attempts with Burns and Ryan on the ice, according to Corsica Hockey, up from Burns and Martin’s 52.13 percent mark together.

The Sharks are attempting more shots than their opponents when Burns and Ryan play, they’re doing so at a higher rate. With Burns and Ryan on the ice, the Sharks are attempting nearly nine more shots per 60 minutes than when Burns and Martin together, and just over two more shots per 60 minutes are hitting the net.

As we’ve written about previously, Burns’ scoring struggles date back to the stretch run last season, when he was playing alongside Martin. It wasn’t Martin’s fault then, just as it’s not Ryan’s fault now.

The puck simply isn’t going in. Through 20 games this season, Burns has 82 shots on goal and zero goals. Through 20 games in his Norris Trophy-winning campaign, Burns had 83 shots on goal and seven goals.

It’s not like Burns was super lucky then, either, as his 8.3 percent shooting percentage through 20 games last season was only one percent higher than his career average. Shooting at a zero percent clip after 20 games is, clearly, the outlier.

Together, Burns and Ryan have been more unlucky than anything else. When the two skate during five-on-five play, the Sharks are scoring on only 3.45 percent of their shots, much lower than the 8.26 percent San Jose scored on when Martin and Burns played together.

At 32 years old, it would be a stretch to expect Burns to match or exceed his heights from a season ago, but it would be an even bigger one to expect him to struggle much longer alongside Ryan. 

They've done everything right, they just haven't scored.

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived


Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

It turns out the top-six winger the Sharks needed to replace Patrick Marleau was on the roster all along.

Joonas Donskoi skated on Logan Couture’s line in Monday night’s shootout loss to the Ducks, and was San Jose’s best player. He scored the Sharks’ only two goals, and tied for the team-lead among forwards with four shots on net.

Donskoi added another goal in the ninth-round shootout, but his two goals in regulation were his sixth and seventh on the season. With those goals, he surpassed his total from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago, and stands three tallies clear as San Jose’s second-leading goal-scorer this season.

Due to Melker Karlsson’s injury, Donskoi skated with the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer, Logan Couture, and rekindled the strong chemistry the pair has shown since the Finnish winger arrived in San Jose in 2015.

Of the nine lines Couture has skated on for at least 50 minutes dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the three best in terms of puck possession have had Donskoi on his wing. Those three combinations have controlled at least 54 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, according to Corsica Hockey.

Adding Tomas Hertl, who’s already a strong possession player, to that line bodes well for an even stronger second line moving forward. With Karlsson on the wing, the line controlled only 47.7 percent of the shot attempts, per Corsica, meaning the Sharks have been routinely out-possessed with them on the ice.

That was not the case with Donskoi in Karlsson’s place, as Donskoi posted positive possession numbers alongside Couture and Hertl on Monday, according to Natural Stat Trick. The results were there, as evidenced by the game’s opening goal, but it’s a good sign that the process was, too.

The same, frankly, can be said of Donskoi’s entire season up to this point. He likely won’t convert on over 18 percent of his shots all season, of course, but the Sharks have the puck more often than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and should continue to generate pressure, chances, and ultimately goals, even if Donskoi’s personal scoring comes down.

When Karlsson comes back, Donskoi should remain on Couture and Hertl’s line. That would allow the former to slide into a role better-suited to his game, and the latter to bolster San Jose’s top-six forward group.

Donskoi’s earned an extended look in that spot thanks to his resurgence, and subsequent emergence, this season. Thanks to him, replacing Marleau’s production suddenly seems much less daunting.