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.