Brent Burns

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

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USATSI

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

Defenseman Paul Martin cleared waivers on Tuesday, and will now get a chance to play regularly with the San Jose Barracuda as his agent and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson attempt to find a trade destination. While he’s in the minors, his former partner, Brent Burns, is now playing with the man that essentially took his spot.

Joakim Ryan has been the reigning Norris Trophy winner's most common defensive partner this year, and the rookie moved back to Burns’ side late in San Jose’s win over Arizona on Saturday. He skated alongside him again during Monday’s win in Los Angeles, and is set to do the same Tuesday against the Coyotes.

In just over 28-and-a-half minutes together at five-on-five play over the last two games, the Sharks controlled 57.89 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. They got favorable assignments, starting 73.33 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite this, the pair have given up a worrisome amount of scoring chances in their short reunion. 

In parts of two games together, the Sharks have attempted 46.67 percent of the scoring chances, and 38.46 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with the Wookiee and the rookie on the ice. That's eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons, and points to a larger concern. 

No matter who Burns has played with the Sharks have been largely out-chanced. With Burns on the ice this season, the Sharks have controlled 49.94 percent and 44.52 percent of the scoring chances and the high-danger chances, respectively, with a team-high 65.49 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts starting in the offensive zone.

When Burns has played with Ryan all season, the Sharks have controlled 52.05 percent of the scoring chances, but just 47.97 percent of the high-danger chances, despite starting 65.53 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. With Dillon, Burns' second-most common defensive partner, the Sharks have lost the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance battle, despite starting in the offensive zone 63.35 percent of the time.

It should be no surprise the Sharks have been badly outscored with Burns on the ice at even strength, to the tune of 17 goals for and 38 goals against. With all due respect to Fetty Wap, you don't want to see that. 

No matter who he's played with, Burns has struggled defensively in 2017-18. The problem is that his partners haven't struggled nearly as much without him.

Without Burns, Ryan's shot attempt numbers are worse, but his scoring chance numbers are much better (57.55 percent of the scoring chances, 55 percent of the high-danger chances), despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone (51.39 percent offensive zone starts). Dillon's possession numbers, as well as his scoring chance numbers, are also better away from Burns, and he too starts more shifts away from the offensive zone. 

As a result, it'd be fair to question why the Sharks waived Martin. After all, he was Burns' partner as he ascended into the league's upper echelon of defenseman, right?

But Burns and Martin were ineffective together in limited minutes this season, getting out-possessed, outshot, and out-chanced despite favorable deployment (61.11 percent offensive zone starts). Plus, Burns was actually better away from Martin over the last two seasons, as the Sharks controlled a greater share of the shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances when Burns played with a different partner. 

Perhaps, with more time together, Burns and Martin would have rounded into their defensive form of the last two seasons. Now, one of Martin's skates is out the door, and it's foolish to expect significant improvement from two players on the wrong side of 30 regardless.

Paul Martin's imminent departure, then, should send a clear message to Brent Burns. His security blanket is gone, and it's on him alone to plug the holes in his defensive game. 

Burns rewarded for in-season turnaround with fifth All-Star selection

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AP

Burns rewarded for in-season turnaround with fifth All-Star selection

All-Star weekend is about to get a lot hairier.

Reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns will represent the San Jose Sharks on the Pacific Division team at the NHL All-Star game in Tampa on Jan. 28. It will mark his fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, and the fifth of his career. 

After a slow start to the season, the 32-year-old was far from a lock to continue that streak. Burns managed to score just eight points, all assists, in his first 20 games, even as he pumped 84 shots on goal. 

He didn’t score his first goal of the season until Black Friday, but since then, Burns has scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists). Over that span, Burns is tied for 14th-most among skaters in points, and tops all defensemen. 

Despite the slow start, the Sharks blueliner is tied for sixth among defensemen in points (30), tied for eighth in goals (seven), and tied for seventh in assists (23). His 172 shots on goal lead all defensemen by at least 41 shots, and trails only Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin, and Tyler Seguin. 

His slump-busting stretch hasn’t moved the Sharks much in the standings. Before Burns broke out, San Jose held the final wild card spot in the Western Conference by virtue of fewer games played than the teams with whom they were tied. Now, they hold the third and final spot in the Pacific Division, tied with the Calgary Flames (48 points) with two games in hand. 

Burns, who is tied for the team-lead in scoring with Logan Couture, was the only Shark named to the game. The Vegas Golden Knights (two) and the Los Angeles Kings (three), the top two teams in the Pacific, were the only teams in the division with multiple All-Stars. 

Each team needed at least one representative, so it likely came down to Burns and Couture to get the nod on the Sharks. Given Burns’ (and his beard’s) popularity, it’s not too surprising the league let the Wookiee in, although Couture will have a decent case as an injury replacement. 

Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have been better than you think this season

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USATSI/AP

Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have been better than you think this season

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.