Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sharks Paul Martin Set to Return, and Brent Burns Should be Excited about that

There's nothing like the comfort of your favorite pair of jeans. You slip them on, the belt is already on there, the wallet might even still be in the back pocket from last night's trip the grocery (if you're a guy and you carry your wallet in your back pocket). They fit just right, you wear them every day, or until someone tells you you wear them every day--then you change them.

On Thursday the Sharks should be getting their favorite pair of jeans back.

We're talking about Paul Martin, Brent Burns longtime partner who has missed all but two games this season.

The Sharks have been doing just fine defensively, but with rookie Tim Heed out with injury and Brenden Dillon serving his one-game suspension, the timing couldn't be more perfect for Martin's return.

That's because the aforementioned Burns is still seeking his Norris Trophy winning mojo this season. He has just one goal and 11 assists to go with a minus-8 in 26 games this season--now you see why these old jeans might be just what San Jose needs at this stage of the season.

The Sharks offensive woes certainly don't start at the blue line, but getting some of Burns production back would be a very welcome development in Teal Town for a team that is struggling to score goals in a big way.

Head coach Peter DeBoer has thrown a whole bunch of kids into the blender this season and none of them have proven to be prolific offensively. Don't get us wrong, there's some promise, particularly when it comes to Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan, but when it comes to kids, DeBoer has always been hesitant about throwing them into critical roles, especially when they aren't making significant contributions on the score sheet.

So far the Sharks have overcome their poor offense (2.5 goals per game, third-worst in the NHL) with excellent defense and sturdy goaltending (2.3 goals allowed per game, second-best in the NHL). But any little thing that tweaks the offense in a positive fashion will be more than welcome.

Could Martin be that guy?

If the 36-year-old Minnesota native can help Burns rekindle his offensive prowess, the Sharks will certainly be better off. It's been a difficult season for many Sharks' veterans, but nobody is struggling more than Burns. Playing primarily with Martin last season Burns put up 1.79 points per 60 minutes. This season he is down to 0.64 and can't buy a goal (he has just one).

Burns has been paired primarily with rookie Joakim Ryan this season, and the pair have been excellent from a possession standpoint, putting up a 5-on-5 Corsi of 55.27. But that Corsi number has not translated into goals as the Sharks have scored just 1.14 per 60 mins while allowing 2.27 per 60 mins with the pair on the ice together.

It's not that Ryan and Burns have been bad, but maybe Burns will benefit from not having to worry about a rookie partner while he's on the ice. Sometimes we tend to under appreciate what comfort means to players on the ice. Burns may feel a little more responsible for other partners, and San Jose's coaching staff surely wants him to be a little more defensively responsible when he's out there with a rookie that is getting his first taste of the NHL game. So maybe what Martin's return means for Burns is a return to freewheeling hockey.

It certainly worked last season.

In 2017-18 the Sharks were strong with Martin and Burns on the ice. In the 1179 minutes that the pair was on the ice at 5-on-5, San Jose averaged 2.65 goals per 60 minutes while allowing 2.09. Different season, different vibe in San Jose offensively. This team has been largely snakebitten this season and the absence of Patrick Marleau up front combined with the slow start of Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is no doubt dragging those numbers in the Sharks first 26 games, but it sure isn't bad news that Burns is getting his longtime partner back.

Anything, at this point in time, helps.