San Jose Sharks: Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns igniting full offensive rhythm

LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 30: Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks talks with teammates during a preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on September 30, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 30: Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks talks with teammates during a preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on September 30, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are the engines driving the offensive explosion for the San Jose Sharks. The solidified top defensive pair is spreading the wealth down all four forward lines and creating an even tougher race for the Norris Trophy award.

At the beginning of this promising season for the San Jose Sharks, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns had a combined 32 points through the first 20 games.

In the last five games, the two Norris Trophy-winning defensemen have a combined total of 22 points.

From the sweet stretch in the month of December to the awakening of 2019, the San Jose Sharks  have seen a surge of offense led by two of the most durable offensively-minded defensemen in the National Hockey League.

Since a loss to Ottawa on the road on December 1st , San Jose is 13-2-2 and has won six of their last seven games while kicking up their offensive production to the cream of the crop.

Currently, only five defensemen in the NHL have 40 or more points. Two of them, just so happen to be dawning teal every night they take the ice. Now, that’s an impressive advantage.

Burns leads all defensemen with 40 assists and 49 points, averaging more than a point per game this season. Right behind #88, #65 holds 38 assists to his name to go along with his 41 points, which is tied for third among defensemen with Washington’s John Carlson.

Burns and Karlsson feed off of each other effectively as a dynamic defensive duo on the man-advantage and even strength. On the Sharks seventh-ranked power play (25.2%), the pair of right-handed one-timing, slick-stickhandling defensemen quarterback head coach Peter DeBoer’s top unit from the point.

Prior to the last week or so, Karlsson was pivot man for the second wave. However, the 28-year-old just recently replaced Kevin Labanc on the right side for the No. 1 group , and it’s paid off. In the last nine games, Karlsson has five helpers on the power play, supplying quick feeds and easy entrances into the offensive zone that has allowed more San Jose Sharks forwards to step up and find a groove.

Burns is also a monster on the power play when it comes to unleashing cannons from the blue line. His stick-handling may not be as impressive as Karlsson’s, but penalty killers have trouble facing the wicked shot Burns fires toward the goal. Burns leads the Sharks with 20 power play points, including five power play goals, which ranks tied for second among defensemen with Florida’s Keith Yandle.

The recent stretch of success has not just been the mastermind and expertise on the prominent performance on special teams, but it also attributes to the hot streaks of Karlsson and Burns.

Karlsson joined elite company Tuesday night after the Sharks’ 7-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at SAP Center, becoming just the fifth defenseman in NHL history to record assists in 14 straight appearances.

Karlsson continues to extend the Sharks franchise record while looking to pass all-time greats Bobby Orr and Phil Housley in their next game against the Vegas Golden Knights. During that span, Karlsson has 25 points, including one goal and 14 assists in his last six games.

Although Burns does not hold a lengthy point streak like Karlsson, he continues to rack up points in large numbers. Burns has recorded multi-point performances in five out of last six games, including three helpers in back-to-back games against the challenging Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.

While Burns and Karlsson have picked up the pace offensively, they have provided support for the forwards in all four lines as they’ve seemed to taken stride in full effect.

The second (or third) line has taken a boost with more sizzle and spark from Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi. Kane has 17 points in his last 16 games with two-goal games against Edmonton and Tampa Bay this week.

We’ve seen Kane drive harder toward the net, fight for pucks in the hard areas, and grind out chippy goals. With a bit of luck, Kane is nicely fulfulling his contract and shaping up to have a solid second-half run as we saw last year after the trade deadline.

Kane’s first full season in teal appears to take form of a parabola with a big curve. Kane got off to a hot start, dipped in the middle, and now sees a spike trending upward to where he now has 16 goals on the year, which is tied for third on the team with Logan Couture.

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Kane’s linemate Joonas Donskoi has been on a tear as well. The swift stickhandler has lit the lamp in six out of his last seven games, including multi-goal nights against Pacific Division rivals Edmonton and Calgary during the stretch.

Prior to his hot streak, Donskoi had just a single goal in the previous 17 games during December, which came on the power play against the Winnipeg Jets on home ice. The Finnish phenom now has 13 goals and 11 points in 45 games, and is on pace to break his career single-season goal total set during the 2017-2018 season with 14 tallies in 66 games.

While the veteran players have stepped up in the ranks, the San Jose Sharks have also seen significant steps forward from rookies Lukas Radil and Radim Simek.

Lukas Radil has six goals and four assists in 20 games this season. The 28-year-old waited a long time to make the Sharks roster and just recently signed a one-year extension to keep his name etched in teal through 2020. In addition, Radil’s successful first-year campaign finds a comfortable line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier.

With defensive shutdown pair Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun on the shelf, young Barracuda defensemen have needed to step up to begin the second half of the season and there is no bigger insurance on the blue line than Radim Simek.

Despite just five points in 16 games, Simek plays crucial minutes on the top D pair with Burns, extending his TOI to 15:18 minutes per game. The 26-year-old eclipsed the 20-minute mark in the 7-2 over the Oilers and recorded a +1 plus/minus and four hits. Simek’s phyiscal presence is a huge addition, comparable to Brenden Dillon‘s size and strength, and is making waves among Sharks fans for the hits and fights sticking up for the team.

While the San Jose Sharks face adversity with a tough schedule and the recent injury bug, the Sharks offense is not snake-bitten. San Jose increased its production to 3.56 goals per game, which ranks fourth in the league. Furthermore, the Sharks have scored five or more goals in five out of the last six games.

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The flower has fully blossomed and the Sharks need to take advantage of the team’s offensive outburst. With 19 of their last 35 games away from SAP Center, the road gets even tougher for a push in the Pacific Division standings, but San Jose’s fight is relentless and they are up for the challenge.