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Quick Thoughts: Forgot About Burns, Sharks Win 5-3

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Credit: NBCS Bay Area

Since the start of the season, San Jose Sharks media coverage has been pretty much 24/7 “As Erik Karlsson’s World Turns”.

San Jose Hockey Now has been as guilty of that as anybody: Karlsson is the team’s highest-paid and most-polarizing player, and his season, through six games, has been a genuine rollercoaster.

Somehow, we’ve forgotten a bit about the 6-foot-5 man mountain who was a Norris Trophy finalist just two years ago.

Brent Burns reminded us all of the potential two-headed monster lurking along the San Jose blueline in the Sharks’ 5-3 victory over Minnesota.

It wasn’t just the goal, but oh, what a goal it was!

That game-winner was just one great play in a game-leading 27:31 of good plays — on both sides of the ice. Burns, by the way, currently leads all NHL defensemen with a 28:07 Average Time on Ice, followed only by Karlsson’s 27:59.

We saw the offense; here’s some defense.

Burns’s defensive game is much-maligned, and to be honest, I’ve had arguments with even NHL scouts about it. Let’s just say he has some big fans and some huge detractors.

I’ve always thought there’s a ton that Burns does well defensively. If he manages his mistakes, his overall impact makes him one of the top defensemen in the league.

Bob Boughner agreed: “His defensive game doesn’t get enough credit. It really doesn’t. People talk about his defensive gaps. I think he’s playing great defensive hockey right now.”

Burns, like Karlsson, suffered an uncharacteristic 2019-20. Both are live by the sword, die by the sword blueliners. When they’re off, safe to say it’s bloody teal. But when they’re on?

They’re high-risk but more importantly high-impact. Both can singlehandedly swing the pendulum for the San Jose Sharks either way.

On Wednesday, Karlsson reminded us how great he can be; tonight, Burns did the same.

The Switch

Marc-Edouard Vlasic had been paired with Karlsson, while Mario Ferraro had been skating with Burns. They were flip-flopped tonight, Vlasic with Burns and Ferraro with Karlsson.

Boughner explained: “We felt that we need a little more jump and aggressiveness down low on each of those pairings. It worked tonight.”

This was in line with what Boughner pointed out about Vlasic earlier:

Game Preview/Lines #6: Boughner Says Vlasic Has “Another Level”, Inside PK’s Success

“I’d like to see a little more aggressiveness down low, jumping the check and ending more plays,” Boughner said of Vlasic.

Meanwhile, Boughner remarked of Burns tonight: “In the system here, there’s a lot of onus on defense for a little more decision-making.

“With Burnzie, he’s sorting that out. You can tell he’s getting more confident and aggressive down low. He’s just been real aggressive, which has been great.”

So there’s a potential balance between Vlasic and Burns. We’ll see if the pairings last.

The Decision

Speaking of balance, Timo Meier was demoted to the third line with Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor.

It might’ve been bad for Meier, but it was good for the San Jose Sharks’ overall attack. Halfway through the game, play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn exclaimed, “That third line looking good for Boughner.”

That’s not something we’ve heard much about San Jose’s third line so far this year.

“He was a beast out there,” Boughner said of Meier. “He was taking pucks to the net, dragging people on his back. He was finishing on the forecheck.”

Per SPORTLOGiQ, Meier led all skaters with 00:58 in Offensive Zone Possession Time, All Situations. He also paced everybody with seven Controlled Entries.

But we know, whatever line that he’s on, that Meier is a true talent. More promising for the Sharks was Gambrell’s continued strong play and Gregor’s emergence.

Among San Jose Sharks forwards, Gambrell tied Evander Kane for second-most shifts in the third period with nine apiece, trailing only Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl’s 10. It was Gambrell’s third-straight quality effort, a good sign for a San Jose squad that desperately needs someone to take command of the third-line center role.

I still have questions about Gambrell’s long-term efficacy as 3C, but he’s been Boughner’s best solution so far.

But actually, it wasn’t the decison to demote Meier or elevate Gambrell that intrigued me most. Instead, it was inserting Gregor for Stefan Noesen.

This was after Boughner, unprompted, complimented Noesen (and his team’s game) on Friday.

“It made us faster in the bottom-six,” offered Boughner.

It wasn’t just the fact that Gregor scored — the line was a constant offensive threat.

They obviously have some things to iron out defensively — and Gregor played a team-low 8:01 at even strength — but I like Boughner and his coaching staff not standing pat with the safe play in Noesen.

“I talked to Stef about that. He wasn’t coming out because I thought he didn’t play well,” Boughner said. “There’s going to be adjustments every night, especially in this format.”

Boughner gambled on Gregor’s higher ceiling — his ability to push play the other way and greater offensive potential — and it paid off.

It won’t every night, but Boughner can’t afford to play it safe if he wants to maximize the San Jose Sharks’ potential: He must unleash Karlsson and Burns, get more offense from his third line.

Since the beginning of training camp, Boughner has more or less said all the right things about what the Sharks need to squeeze out of themselves to succeed.

Tonight, Boughner’s faith was rewarded.

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Alicia

I messaged a clip of that Burns goal to just about everyone I know. My son said “it looks like Burns said fuck it, I’m going to score”. Exactly right.

Alaskan_ice

That Burns goal was dirty.
It highlighted a game this team needed. Effort, scrums and goals all around. They’re not going to shut out everybody, other teams have talent. Now, our boys know how to have fun again. Hopefully it keeps going in the same direction in Colorado.

Go Sharks!!

whiskerz

Definitely nice to see the guys be loose on the bench at the end of the game! Hopefully the smiles can stay and we play at least. 500 hockey this season!

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