April 12, 2014

Brent Burns isn't the sole reason San Jose is thriving at the moment, but there's no denying the defenseman's ability to get on the score sheet regularly gives the Sharks a unique advantage.

They've also continued the strange trend of being far better on the road than at home.

San Jose can win a fifth straight road game by remaining unbeaten against the Arizona Coyotes this season in the first of two matchups in four days Thursday night.

Burns has set career highs with 26 goals and 64 points while tying Sandis Ozolinsh's team records for a defenseman in 1993-94. His 38 assists are five short of matching his career best after recording one on Joonas Donskoi's winning goal in the third period of Tuesday's 3-2 victory over Boston.

His goal in the second tied it and is one of six to go along with seven assists over his last eight. Burns is closing in on becoming the first defenseman to finish with at least 30 goals since Mike Green netted 31 for Washington in 2008-09.

''I'm not going to lie, it's a pretty cool honor,'' Burns said. ''I just think it means I'm playing with a lot of great players. You're the recipient of a lot of great plays by guys.''

Joe Thornton helped set up Burns' goal Tuesday and has four goals and 12 assists over his last 12. His and Burns' production have helped the Sharks (39-24-6) win seven of nine with their sights set on catching Los Angeles, which they trail by five points for the Pacific Division lead.

''The guy's unbelievable,'' Thornton said of Burns. ''He plays in all situations. When he's out there you feel like something can happen every shift. What a year he's having. Right now he's playing great hockey.''

San Jose could earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs by finishing first or second in the Pacific, but it might actually be better off staying where it is. Its 25 road wins are the most in the league while posting a 14-15-3 mark at home.

The Sharks have plenty of opportunities to improve that home record, as this matchup with the Coyotes (30-32-7) is their only one on the road in a 10-game stretch that began last Thursday.

San Jose won the first meeting 3-1 on the road Jan. 21 before Burns had two assists in a 4-1 victory Feb. 13, its fifth in the last six matchups. The Coyotes visit the Sharks on Sunday, and they'll complete the season series in both teams' finale April 9 in San Jose.

Arizona didn't have Mike Smith in either of the previous meetings after he missed 40 games following surgery to repair a core muscle injury, but it's likely he'll be in net for this one. Smith returned Saturday and made 44 saves to beat Edmonton 4-0.

"I didn't feel good," Smith said. "The goal wasn't to come in and feel unbelievable. It's part of the process. But saying that, it's definitely a confidence builder."

Antoine Vermette scored twice and had an assist to give him four goals and five assists over his last five. The Coyotes have won back-to-back games following a 1-8-1 stretch.

"We want to establish a good culture around here and create good habits, regardless of where we are in the standings," Vermette said.

Martin Jones stopped 45 of 47 shots to help the Sharks win the first two meetings and could be back in goal Thursday.

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