Sharks

Brent Burns garnering Norris Trophy buzz as Sharks streak out of break

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AP

Brent Burns garnering Norris Trophy buzz as Sharks streak out of break

With the 2018-19 NHL season more than halfway over, it’s approaching that time when everyone watching the game begins taking a good look at contenders for the end-of-year awards. As far as the Sharks are concerned, there is already buzz that defenseman Brent Burns should be in the discussion for the Norris Trophy.

Given his body of work this season, especially over the last month or so, it’s hard to disagree with that. 

The buzz around Burns has gained some momentum after the All-Star break, particularly with San Jose getting big victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames this past week. Burns tallied his 50th assist of the season against the Flames, becoming just the seventh blueliner in NHL history to do so in 55 or fewer games, and the first since Sergei Zubov in the 1993-94 season.

While many will look strictly at how many goals Burns has scored this season and see he’s in a four-way tie for fourth place with 11, that high assist total cannot be overlooked. Sure, scoring goals is a big part of the conversation, but Burns’ work as the setup guy cannot be ignored. Plus, that high number of apples is in part due to how often his shots from the point are deflected in by his teammates. (Anyone who has watched a handful of Sharks’ games this season knows captain Joe Pavelski is a master when it comes to redirecting Burns’ slapshots.) Looking at the campaign as a whole, No. 88 currently leads all defensemen in the league with a whopping 61 points. Calgary’s Mark Giordano -- potentially also in the Norris conversation -- trails him in second place with 54 points. 

Keep in mind, Burns is achieving all of this while doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the blue line. With the injury bug biting multiple members of San Jose’s d-corps over the last month and a half, Burns has been averaging close to 30 minutes of ice time almost every night. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Radim Simek, and Erik Karlsson all being sidelined at some point during the month of January, Burns was tasked with keeping things in order. While having Vlasic now back in the lineup and healthy has aided in distributing some of the blue line’s duties, Burns still logged a little over 27 minutes in Tuesday’s game over the Jets with Karlsson remaining sidelined. The fact Burns keeps racking up points while maintaining the heavy workload is nothing short of admirable.

[RELATED: Sharks' confidence growing with wins over Flames, Jets]

Burns doesn’t look to be slowing down, either. As one of three Sharks who participated in the All-Star festivities a couple weekends ago, Burns didn’t get the extended time off most of his teammates got between the All-Star break and the bye week. Nevertheless, he continues to contribute to San Jose’s cause, registering multiple points in all three games since the team returned from break. 

Sure, there’s plenty of hockey left and there are a few defensemen who deserve to be in the Norris Trophy conversation at this juncture of the season. There’s no denying, though, that Brent Burns is a candidate everyone should be talking about.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE - The Sharks' first standoff of the season against the Sabres was a fast-paced and tight-checking fete that saved most of its drama for the last 20 minutes of play.

But even with a couple of third-period goals to keep things interesting, Team Teal couldn't quite pull this one off against the visiting Buffalo squad and dropped the final game of their homestand 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game:

Going to the net

The Sharks might have been better on the defensive side of their game, particularly in their own end. But they struggled throughout Saturday's contest with getting in front of Buffalo's net and generating good shots. In fact, San Jose only tallied one shot on goal through nearly 13 minutes in the second period.

You do have to give San Jose's offense credit for turning it up in the latter part of the game, though. After Casey Mittelstadt's bizarre goal gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead, the Sharks turned things up and notch. They not only got more o-zone time but had a much better net-front presence. It's no wonder they were able to knot the score back up twice in the third period -- even if they weren't able to score the tie-breaking goal and get the win.

Going in for the kill

One of the biggest tests for the Sharks in Saturday's game was to stay out of the penalty box, given they were going up against one of the best power plays in the league. So, naturally, it was a bit of a nail-biter when San Jose got into a little penalty trouble in the second period.

San Jose did succeed in silencing Buffalo's power play, even if it wasn't very pretty. While Martin Jones wasn't quite as sharp on Saturday as he has been as of late, the team in front of him did a good job of halting the Sabres on the man advantage.

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The kid was all right

Noah Gregor didn't score a goal on Saturday night -- even though his new teammates tried to set him up for one. The 21-year-old forward did, however, have a good showing in his NHL debut, displaying a ton of speed as if he was already completely accustomed to the pace of a big-league game.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said on Saturday morning that he would prefer it if one of San Jose's young players would seize the opportunity to be a regular on the team's fourth line with Dylan Gambrell and Melker Karlsson. Gregor only has one game under his belt, but he is already making a good case to stick around for a while.