No two defensemen have scored more points than Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns since 2014-15, when the former moved back to the blueline. The two finished second and first, respectively, in defensive scoring and Norris Trophy voting last season, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking at the scoring leaders this season.
Karlsson (18 points) is tied for 13th, and Burns (14) is tied for 34th. Yet amidst their respective slow starts, there’s still reason for optimism.
Don’t let the scoring totals fool you: Saturday night’s tilt between the Sharks and Senators is a marquee matchup, because of Burns and Karlsson.
Both ended lengthy scoring droughts on Thursday. Burns’ overtime winner against the Hurricanes was his first goal since Black Friday, and Karlsson’s assist against the Kings was his first point in 11 games.
Plus, Karlsson and Burns remain excellent possession players, even if the results haven’t come. At even strength, Senators have controlled 54.53 percent of the shot attempts with Karlsson on the ice in five-on-five situations, and 46.42 percent with him off of it. For the Sharks, it’s 55.48 percent with Burns on the ice, 51.09 percent with him off of it, per Corsica Hockey.
Neither player’s going to shoot less than two percent during five-on-five play, as they are so far, for the whole season. Both Karlsson and Burns are probably due for a turnaround.
Even with his month-long drought in mind, Karlsson’s still been nothing short of impressive this season. Doctors removed “half [his] ankle bone” in surgery over the offseason, and he’s only had 22 games so far to adjust.
He hasn’t been otherworldly enough to carry a subpar supporting cast into playoff position, as he did last season, but matching his career points per game (0.82) on 1.6 percent shooting and surgically repaired ankle is remarkable.
Burns, meanwhile, appears to be rounding into form after a slow start. Since ending an eight-game stretch without a point on Nov. 22, he has scored seven points in his last eight games.
Since Nov. 12, Burns has had multiple shots on goal in every game. His 46 shots over that span are the most among defensemen, and the eighth-most among all skaters.
Burns and Karlsson haven’t quite been themselves this season, but remain two of the best players at their position in despite that. Since Ottawa and San Jose only play each other twice a season, every game is one that should be savored, even as the two star defensemen aren’t necessarily at their best.