With the San Jose Sharks seemingly out of the woods as far as the losing streak goes they can look to getting back on track in the Pacific Division. They have won three out of their last four games, all on the road, and now on Thursday start a five-game homestand. The great news is that the rest of the division has seemed to slow down as well and the Sharks find themselves just one point out of first behind the Anaheim Ducks.
However, as we saw in San Jose’s most recent game against the Chicago Blackhawks, there are still a couple holes in the lineup which was evident against the better teams in the league (for example, L.A. earlier this season and Chicago).
Those two holes missing from the lineup, Raffi Torres and Brent Burns, change the dynamic of this team in a way that the recently acquired Mike Brown has not been able to do. On the plus side Tommy Wingels, who is the team’s most physical player again this season, has turned up his offensive game while staying physical and has been getting some extended on the top couple of lines.
Still, what Torres and Burns bring to the Sharks is an added dimension of not just physical play, but also a net-front presence and two of San Jose’s best forecheckers as well.
To put it even simpler, with Burns this season the Sharks were 7-0-1 and since he has been injured they are 6-3-4. As for Torres, it will still be a while until he returns from his unfortunate injury that he sustained before this season even started.
In Burns the Sharks are missing a point-per-game player even since he was switched over to the forward position last season. In his eight game this season Burns filled the stat sheet with four goals, four assists, a plus-minus rating of +9, and eight penalty minutes.
Not only that, Burns completes the line centered by Joe Thornton, and together those two are incredibly hard to stop once they get the puck behind the net and along the boards. Also, once Brent Burns is back it may open things up for rookie Tomas Hertl who has still been scoring but seems to be struggling to find some consistency.
In the grander scheme of things the return of Burns will also mean that the few guys that have been filling in on that top line (and quite admirably I might add) will be put back where they are more comfortable and in the end make the Sharks a much better team depth-wise.
This then puts head coach Todd McLellan in a tough spot with Martin Havlat because he was signed to the Sharks as a top-six forward. However, with his recent benching a couple of games ago after a paltry game in Vancouver, Havlat is not guaranteed in the lineup even though he makes $5 million. The situation will only worsen once Torres and Adam Burish are healthy and ready to return to the lineup.
There has been talk about the Sharks looking to trade Havlat, but the problem is that other teams will want to see him play. So, if Havlat continues to be a healthy scratch it will be harder and harder to trade him. This presents a problem in itself because with his inflated salary he is going to be very difficult to unload anyway.
Either way, Brent Burns’ imminent return will be welcomed with open arms. Hopefully he returns in the form of his point-per-game self and in fact I fully expect he does. It may take a few games, but I think he will fit right back in. When that happens the rest of the league better watch out because Burns’ (and Torres to a certain extent) style of playing with wanton disregard for the opposing team is not one they want to deal with.