Amid struggles in San Jose, the Sharks are leaning hard on Brent Burns

The Norris Trophy winner is playing more minutes than he ever has in his career and that's saying something. But with San Jose battling injuries and depth issues, the Sharks don't really have much of a choice right now
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The San Jose Sharks are struggling in October and it’s not just one aspect of their game that is suffering. The defense is bottom-five in the NHL, while the offense is bottom-10. Goaltending is still an issue.

After a summer of losses that included Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun and Joonas Donskoi, there was bound to be a feeling-out period as the franchise as the Sharks brought a new generation of youngsters into the fold. Many of those prospects are forwards, however, so with Dalton Prout and Radim Simek injured on the blueline, San Jose has filled in with rookie Mario Ferraro and AHL tweener Tim Heed.

The end result is that all-star blueliner Brent Burns is playing the most hockey of his career right now – and that’s a high bar to clear. Through 12 games, Burns is averaging 26:31 of ice time per night, just three seconds behind NHL leader Thomas Chabot of Ottawa. And the Sharks have needed Burns.

“He’s an elite athlete,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “He’s a great skater, he’s got a big engine and he’s just one of those special guys who can go all night like that.”

Having said that. DeBoer would prefer to have his full complement of defensemen so that Burns did not have to play that much every night, but for the bearded wonder himself, it’s all about preparation.

“At the start of the year, you feel good and it gets you into a better rhythm,” Burns said. “It’s good to get into a routine and you’re always in good shape thanks to the summer.”

But the team’s rough start is reflected upon Burns in the early going. Though he leads the team in scoring with 12 points in 12 games, his possession numbers are way down from last season. He’s also averaging nearly a shot less per game than he did, while the team as a whole is down approximately five shots per game versus the 2018-19 campaign. That’s another category that finds the Sharks near the bottom of the league.

“A lot of times it’s not completing passes or not getting them through,” Burns said. “It’s a fine line, both ways.”

The million-dollar question is whether the imminent returns of Simek and Prout will make a difference. Ferraro has a lot of potential on the blueline thanks to his great skating and Burns noted how impressed he has been by the rookie’s poise. But neither Ferraro nor Heed have been trusted with the same kind of minutes that Prout and Simek have historically been given, so maybe just freeing up the likes of Burns and Erik Karlsson (who is also logging a ton of ice time, as per usual) for another minute or two can be a positive. Figuring out that balance will be the ongoing challenge for DeBoer and his staff.

In the meantime, it’s not hard to see that Burns is still an impact player on the Sharks. He’ll always get attention thanks to his offensive numbers, but his teammates appreciate everything he does out there.

“He’s a great player,” said goalie Martin Jones. “He’s tough to play against in the ‘D’ zone and probably the best in the league on the offensive blueline at getting pucks through quickly. He’s a big part of our team, for sure.”

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