Sharks' Brent Burns excited to 'eat more' after most ice time since 2016

Sharks' Brent Burns excited to 'eat more' after most ice time since 2016

Erik Karlsson is done for the season. Brenden Dillon now plays for the Washington Capitals. Jacob Middleton went down with what looked to be a gruesome lower-body injury in the Sharks' win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, and fellow rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro was ruled out of both of San Jose's games this weekend with the same injury description.

Yeah, it would be fair to say the Sharks' defensive corps has taken a beating over the last month.

San Jose's depth in the back end has been tested due to the quick succession of departures from the lineup. Nikolai Knyzhov was thrown into the fire in making his NHL debut in Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, in which he was paired up with Brandon Davidson, who was making just his second appearance with the Sharks after being acquired at the trade deadline.

With some new faces on the blue line, interim coach Bob Boughner relied on his veterans even more than usual, and none more so than Brent Burns. After playing nearly 13 minutes in the first period of Saturday's game, he finished with 31:35 minutes of ice time -- the most he has played in a game since Dec. 13, 2016.

Burns' heavy load was simply the result of the predicament the Sharks currently find themselves in.

"We don't really have any choice, with Mario out and [Middleton] out," Boughner said after Saturday's loss. "I thought that Knyzhov played a pretty good game tonight for his first game in the NHL. We know we're playing Burns heavy minutes and the big three or four guys there heavy minutes, but it is what it is."

After the game, Burns was no worse for wear, and even seemed excited by the reward he earned for himself. 

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"I feel great. I feel good," Burns said. "I think we're all in the same boat. We all train for the summer to play more than we ever play, so it's good. 

"I get to eat more tonight now."

Burns apparently required a little extra to refuel after Saturday's long haul, and he'll need it in short order. With the Sharks hosting the Colorado Avalanche on the back end of a back-to-back on Sunday at SAP Center, he has less than 24 hours to get ready for what should be another demanding game, particularly for him.

Logan Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason

Logan Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason

The Sharks will miss the NHL playoffs for the first time in five seasons, and just the second time since the 2002-03 campaign.

They struggled so much and things got so bad they didn’t even qualify for a modified 24-team playoff format designed to wrap the season after the coronavirus pandemic forced the NHL to hit pause in mid-March.

Disqualification is an odd feeling for most veteran Sharks, especially after a season that started with promise ended in disaster.

San Jose's path to redemption won’t start for months. It may be well into the winter before next season ramps up, meaning the Sharks have plenty of time on their hands to ponder what went wrong and how to make it right.

They want to find old form at the next available opportunity. Logan Couture believes that should push them through a long and uncertain offseason.

“As a group, we know that every single person needs to be better next year,” the Sharks captain said Thursday on a video conference with Sharks reporters. “I think, with this long break, it adds time for guys to get prepared. Motivation should be at an all-time high for everyone because you want to come back and prove it was just a fluke. We believe that we’re a good team. We have all the pieces in the room to be successful. We just need to go out and do it.”

That’s not outside the realm of possibility, though there are as many -- or more -- question marks surrounding the team than in recent memory.

Those will be answered by management as the Sharks try and build the depth required to weather a long season and, if all goes right, playoff intensity.

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The current issue is to keep players focused and training on their own so they’re ready to return when the time comes.

“Players are creatures of habit,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “The cycles of training and preparing of training and getting ready. This will be the longest time off our team and players have ever had.

"And you’ve got to use that time very well. You don’t want players under-training, or over-training. We’ve talked with our strength and medical people, trying to figure out the best way to get the programs in place so when they come into camp, they’re ready to go.”

Sharks' Tomas Hertl vows to be 'better than before' after knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl vows to be 'better than before' after knee injury

Tomas Hertl stood before the media just a few weeks after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee and vowed to be ready by Sharks training camp. That seemed like a bold proclamation at the time, a promise his rehab should let him live up to.

The All-Star center provided a progress report on his physical condition during a Thursday video conference with the media, saying he’ll be ready for the 2020-21 campaign even if it starts as scheduled in October.

Dropping the puck on time seems highly unlikely after the NHL hit pause on the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic and announced plans to pick it back up with a modified, 24-team playoff format. That could push next season further into the winter, allowing Hertl to downshift his rehab some and focus on getting strong over getting back on the ice.

“I can do almost anything,” Hertl said. “I am able to run, not full speed, but I can do almost everything I was doing before. I was actually surprised about that after not even four months. If we knew the season was starting in October, I would probably start skating in a few weeks. If there’s extra time it might help me, but I think I would be ready for the season even if it starts when it always does. I should be 100 percent ready for next season whenever it happens.”

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Well in line to keep his initial promise, Hertl went a step further Thursday by saying he’s not just looking to regain previous form. He wants to improve upon it.

That would be good news for the Sharks and would continue the 26-year old’s steady ascent as a top-shelf player. He has improved considerably in recent seasons while beginning to maximize great talent, becoming a vital component of the Sharks attack.

Hertl considers this latest knee injury as a speedbump, not a permanent roadblock. He has dealt with knee issues before and always comes back strong. This experience, he says, should be no different.

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“I feel like I have proved the past couple years that I can be one of the top players, one of the top centers on the team,” Hertl said. “I want to keep working on that. I have had some setbacks, but I’m not scared about it. I always come back. The experience has made me stronger. I am taking [this rehab] like another challenge.

“I was named an All-Star and it was a great experience for me, and it makes me want to go back. I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away. My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”