Sharks

The Rookie and the Wookiee: Ryan bringing out the best defensively in Burns

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USATSI

The Rookie and the Wookiee: Ryan bringing out the best defensively in Burns

Rookie defensemen Joakim Ryan took a page out of defensive partner Brent Burns’ playbook in Saturday night’s 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

He scored not once, but twice, and became the first Sharks blueliner other than Burns to score two goals in a game since Justin Braun on Mar. 28, 2016. His second goal, the eventual game-winner, was downright Burnsian.

The 24-year-old joined the rush, fired a hard wrist shot at Oilers goaltender Al Montoya, and had the wherewithal to not only follow up his own rebound, but bury it. If he was six inches taller, 50 pounds heavier, right-handed, and (even more) bearded, Ryan would have been a dead ringer for the reigning Norris Trophy winner.

If Burns has rubbed off on Ryan offensively, the rookie’s done the same to his partner defensively. That may sound strange, considering the Sharks have been outscored 53-30 with Burns on the ice in five-on-five situations, but he’s been far better alongside ryan than away from him.

In just over 478 five-on-five minutes without Ryan, Burns has been on the ice for 12 goals-for and 34 goals-against, according to Natural Stat Trick. In about 525-and-a-half minutes together, Ryan and Burns have been outscored by a single goal: 18-19.

When Burns plays with Ryan, the Sharks attempt a greater share of five-on-five shots (54.84 corsi-for percentage), generate more scoring chances (53.50 percent), and more high-danger chances (50.25 percent) than their opponents. While the Wookiee plays without the rookie, San Jose allows two more goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (4.27) than when they’re together (2.17).

Burns sans Ryan also gives up a higher rate of shot attempts, shots, scoring chances, and high-danger chances. He’s by no means perfect alongside the New Jersey-born Swede, as Burns remains susceptible to the same head-scratching gaffes that have plagued his game all season. But, the chaos is far more controlled with Ryan.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer seemed to realize this coming out of the team’s bye week about a month ago, reuniting the duo in the middle of a Jan. 13 win over the Arizona Coyotes. They were reunited for good in the next game, and Burns has only played 37:10 in five-on-five situations away from Ryan over the last 14 games.

Together, they’ve outscored opponents at five-on-five 12-9 during said stretch. The Sharks will need to continue to utilize their chemistry Sunday evening against the Anaheim Ducks, as well as beyond.

Including Saturday, San Jose in the midst of a four-game stretch against teams on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. The Ducks are the only team over that span within two points of a playoff spot as of this writing.

It’s a real opportunity for the Sharks to establish some solid footing in the race for a postseason spot. Minimizing Burns’ defensive mistakes is necessary for a successful run.

As long as he continues to play with Ryan, though, there’s far less reasons to worry.

Five areas that will decide series between the Sharks and Golden Knights

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AP

Five areas that will decide series between the Sharks and Golden Knights

The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is all but over, meaning the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights are finally on the verge of facing off in Game 1 of the second round.

Vegas won the regular season series, 3-1, in its inaugural campaign. The nine-point standings margin between the Golden Knights and Sharks is the largest among the second-round matchups, but the teams are far more alike than they might appear.

They both swept their way out of the first round, have red-hot goalies, and finished just 0.16 percent apart in five-on-five corsi-for percentage in the regular season (per Corsica Hockey). Two of four regular season meetings went to overtime, and three of four were decided by a goal.

In a meme, they’re two, wall-crawling web-slingers pointing at one another.

What will ultimately separate San Jose and Vegas in the first-ever playoff meeting between the two? We’ll answer that important question with five more.

Who has the even-strength edge?
In four regular season games, the five-on-five shot attempt, shot, scoring chance, and high-danger chance differentials were as follows: Vegas plus-two, San Jose plus-six, San Jose plus-five, and San Jose plus-two. The Golden Knights outscored the Sharks 9-6 at even strength in regulation, largely on the back of a .942 five-on-five save percentage compared to Martin Jones and Aaron Dell’s .909.

Both team’s starting goaltenders are coming off of historic first rounds, which makes controlling the run of play that much more critical. Whichever team gains an advantage, no matter how small, will move itself closer to advancing.

Will Marc-Andre Fleury falter?
Speaking of historically performing goaltenders: Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is in the midst of his best season as a starter. He missed most of the first two months with a concussion, and ultimately started the fewest games as a No. 1 in his 14-year career.

That may have been a blessing in disguise, because Fleury’s arguably never been fresher at any point in his career. He now has a .935 save percentage (.937 five-on-five, per Corsica Hockey) in his last 19 playoff starts dating back to last season, so don’t necessarily expect Fleury to revert to his past, poor postseason form. If he does, though, the Sharks will have an opening.  

How healthy is Brent Burns?
After not participating in the morning skate ahead of Game 4 last week, and skating before but not during the next two practices, the reigning Norris Trophy-winner returned to practice on Monday. Head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Burns could have played in a potential game on Sunday, but this time of year is as notorious for injuries as it is for the tight lips about their circumstances.

Burns scored a goal in Game 1 and pumped a team-high nine pucks on net, but only got six shots off and assisted on a goal over the next three. He still led the team in five-on-five shot attempts, as well as attempts across all situations, of course, but a healthy Burns represents one of the true points of differentiation between San Jose and Vegas, so his status is worth examining.

When will the Golden Knights power play start finishing?
Since March 30, a game after the Golden Knights scored two power-play goals for the second consecutive contest, they have converted on just two of the last 26 power-play opportunities. One of those was on a five-on-three, as the league’s 11th-best power play has gone drier than the Nevada desert.

Vegas has actually attempted almost 10 more five-on-four shots per hour and generated an additional expected goal per hour in the last nine regular season and playoff games compared to the preceding 73, according to Corsica Hockey. During that time, the expansion club has scored on just over three percent of its five-on-four shots. The Sharks have to be careful not to awake a sleeping giant.

Can the Sharks win in Las Vegas?
Only 12 teams won a game at T-Mobile Arena this season. None repeated the feat, and the Sharks were not one of them. San Jose lost by a goal in both trips to the strip, most recently in March when William Karlsson pulled a ‘Hertl’ and gave the Golden Knights the Pacific Division title.

Both losses came under anomalous circumstances, the first a day after Thanksgiving and the second at the end of a four-games-in-six-days road trip, and the Sharks are thus still searching for their first-ever road win against Vegs. They won’t travel to Sin City under similar duress in the postseason, but will have to win (at least) a game on the road against the Golden Knights in order to advance to the Conference Final.

Sharks to open second round Thursday

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AP

Sharks to open second round Thursday

The Sharks know when they'll open the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. T

San Jose will face off against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the second round at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday, April 26 in Sin City, the NHL announced Tuesday. The league also announced start dates for the three other second-round series, but did not announce any games beyond that.

Game 2 will "likely" occur Saturday at 5 p.m, according to Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. 

Game 1 will be televised on NBCSN. Sharks Playoff Central will air on NBC Sports California at 6:30 p.m. leading up to puck drop, with a postgame edition to follow after the final horn on the same channel.