Three takeaways: Martin impressing on Sharks blue line; finding Nemo

Three takeaways: Martin impressing on Sharks blue line; finding Nemo

SAN JOSE – It took some time for the Sharks to get going, but the end result on Sunday against Dallas was a fairly easy 5-1 win over a disappointing Stars team that will miss out the postseason. The veterans led the way, as we focused on in the game recap, but let’s dig a little deeper in the three takeaways…

1 – Martin finding the scoresheet

On Sunday morning Sharks coach Pete DeBoer was asked about Paul Martin, who rarely makes headlines but whose unassuming game this season has been a huge part of San Jose’s success.

“I think he’s gotten better as the season’s gone on,” DeBoer said of the 36-year-old. “The tougher the grind of the schedule, the more he’s rising to the occasion. I thought [Saturday afternoon] he might have been our best defenseman. That’s great to see. He takes good care of himself, he’s a pro’s pro, and a big part of our group.”

Martin had another notable performance on Sunday, notching a pair of assists on the two most important goals of the evening. He sprung Joe Pavelski on a two-on-one that the captain finished off, and continued a quick passing play from Patrick Marleau to Logan Couture that Joel Ward slammed home early in the second.

He’ll bring a three-game point streak (1g, 3a) into Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.

“The guys have made some good plays on just some pucks that I’ve passed to them, so I think it’s just a coincidence,” Martin said of his scoring uptick.

Pavelski gave his teammate a little more credit than that.

“He’s been up in the play. He’s been really solid with the puck, the way he’s been reading plays,” Pavelski said. “That’s what we know he can do. He’s at a high level right now.”

2 – New second line generates a pair

Ward was promoted to the second line in place of Mikkel Boedker late in the loss to Nashville on Saturday, and remained in that spot against the Stars. The 36-year-old scored his first goal in 10 games early in the second period, after linemate Marleau opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game.

The Sharks would love to get more from Ward, who has shown to be a clutch playoff performer, as the postseason approaches. He has eight goals and 26 points in 66 games, after finishing with 21 goals and 43 points in 79 games last season.

“For me, it’s just trying to get pucks out, get to open areas, help my linemates as much as possible, and just try to do little things and believe in that process,” Ward said. 

“Our team gets chances, so it’s just a matter of when you do, you just try to have some opportunities. I’ve had opportunities, just couldn’t score. Today I got a good pass from Cooch, and fortunate to put one in. If you stay with it and believe in it, you’ll get your opportunities.”

The Couture-Marleau-Boedker line had started together the previous 17 games (other than Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, which Couture missed due to illness).

3 – Finding Nemo, Dallas edition

Perhaps the most memorable event of the night came just after Ward’s goal made it 3-1, when Dallas coach Lindy Ruff wanted to pull Kari Lehtonen for Antti Niemi. The problem was, Niemi was nowhere to be found more than two minutes into the middle frame. Jamie Benn had to come off of the bench and leave the ice to go find the netminder, who entered the game at the next stoppage of play.

Cameras showed the Stars head coach was not too pleased behind the bench at the time, but he was restrained after the game when asked about the delay in the tunnel, where Niemi should have been.

“[The referee] said, ‘you’re going to have to wait until the next shift,’ so it was probably the right call," Ruff told reporters.

Niemi said: “I got the word when they decided [to change goalies], so I don't think it matters. Just a few more steps. Maybe it was better to get a few extra seconds there to get mentally ready.”

On the Sharks bench, Martin indicated they weren’t sure what was happening as Lehtonen floated towards center ice, but was then forced to go back to the crease as the puck was dropped.

“I thought Benn was maybe hurt and getting off the ice,” Martin said. “Usually the goalie is sitting right over there. Obviously he was in the back, so…haven’t seen that before.”

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

DALLAS – Brent Burns hasn’t altered his routine, despite his name not showing up on the scoresheet for a little while.

“It’s not like I stopped eating the same meal or I’m not sleeping anymore,” Burns said on Thursday, after a rare Sharks road practice. “It’s the same. I do the same thing every game.”

What he hasn’t been doing every game, like he seemed to be for the first three-quarters of the season, is racking up points. The Norris Trophy frontrunner hasn’t potted a goal in his last 14 games, and is scoreless in his last seven. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, and has four more points than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most among NHL defensemen, but there’s no denying he’s hit a cold streak. Previously, he hadn't gone more than three games without a point.

He’s not the only one, of course, as the Sharks have managed just four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses. But when a team is struggling to put the puck in the net, it’s often the top guys that have to lead the resurgence. And no one has been better or more important to the Sharks this season than the 32-year-old blueliner.

Could it be that as Burns goes, so do the Sharks? The team is 33-9-3 when Burns finds the scoresheet, and just 9-15-4 when he doesn't.

Coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t think so, though, pointing to the Sharks putting up plenty of offense at the start of Burns’ dry spell, including nine combined goals in wins over Dallas and Buffalo last week.

“I don’t think we only score when Brent Burns is on. I think we’re deeper than that. I think we’ve shown that,” DeBoer said. “He hasn’t scored in awhile, and up until a few games ago we were putting up some significant goals and numbers and offense. 

“I think even the nights he’s not scoring, we’ve generated lots of chances. Other than the St. Louis game (a 4-1 loss on March 16), the last three games we’ve lost, we’ve generated enough chances that on a lot of nights that’s three or four goals. But, that’s not just [on] Burnzie…It’s some other guys bearing down and sticking it in the net. It will come.”

Joe Thornton believes that the forwards can also do more to help Burns, who has become the team’s most valuable offensive weapon with his ability to get shots or passes through from a distance with velocity and precision like few players in the NHL can.

“He’s obviously a dominant player, and I think we just need to help him out,” Thornton said. “It shouldn’t always be on one guy, I think we’ve got to give him better opportunities to put him in better spots. It shouldn’t all lay on his shoulders. We’re not doing a good enough job to kind of work away from him, and getting him opportunities.”

Burns, of course, is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. During practice, his hooting and hollering can typically be heard echoing throughout the rink. Simply put, no one has more fun than this guy.

So, is the cold streak weighing on him? Maybe a little bit.

“I think it weighs on him, for sure,” DeBoer said. “We have good dialogue, there’s a lot of communication, especially with him and [assistant coach Bob Boughner]. And also, him and his teammates. The guys know how much responsibility he takes on himself – sometimes too much. Guys are good with that, they recognize that.”

Thornton said: “When you’re a d-man and you get so many goals and so many assists, you kind of expect it’s going to happen every night, but that’s just not the reality of it. He’s doing something that hardly [any] d-men do in the history of the game. … He’s capable of just getting out of that quick, and pouring it on like he has in the first 65 games of the year.”

For now, Burns is taking every new day and new game as it comes, and said: “It’s no different if you’ve won four in a row and you’ve got 10 points.”

And if he did have 10 points in his last four games?

“You want 12. If you’ve got zero, you want one. Then 12,” he said.

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

DALLAS – Injured Sharks forwards Jannik Hansen and Melker Karlsson both returned to the ice for Thursday’s practice in Dallas, in what Pete DeBoer called “a good first step” in their recoveries.

The coach left open the possibility that one or both could play against the Stars on Friday night, even though neither was skating on a set line for practice.

“We’ll have to wait and see how they feel [Friday] morning and what the recovery is,” DeBoer said. “I’m not prepared to say they’re in tomorrow, but it’s a good sign they’re on the ice and participated.”

Hansen has been out for the past two games since getting a stick in the head from defenseman Brandon Montour on Saturday against Anaheim. 

“Took a couple days [off] to make sure everything was aright,” Hansen said. “Getting better, back on the ice today.”

Officially, it’s an upper body injury. When pressed if it was a concussion issue, Hansen said: “I don’t know. It’s tough to say to begin with, but obviously you do all the precautionary things that [are] involved now.”

Although he has just one assist in his first six games with the Sharks, Hansen seemed to spark the Sharks’ top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, as the line generated one even strength goal in each of the first four games Hansen played.

Karlsson has missed the last six games with a lower body injury. He has 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games with a plus-nine rating.

* * *

The lines remained the same for Thursday’s practice. Patrick Marleau was with Thornton and Pavelski; Logan Couture centered Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker; Tomas Hertl was between Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, while the fourth line sweaters were worn by Chris Tierney, Micheal Haley, Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan.

San Jose stayed over in St. Paul on Tuesday night and flew to Dallas on Wednesday morning on their day off.

The Wild game, a 3-2 loss, was the Sharks’ fourth straight. They’ve generated just four goals over that span.

That game also capped off a stretch of seven games in 11 days for the Sharks, who now have just a two-point lead on Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division – a lead that was nine points before the losing streak began.

Was the day off good?

“Yeah. We’ve been kind of struggling scoring goals, so just to kind of relax yesterday and then kind of get back and refocus today,” Thornton said. “But sometimes you just need a little time away from the rink. I think yesterday was needed.”

DeBoer said: “I think our group is pretty mature. I don’t think we’re overeating to the situation. No one’s happy we’ve lost a few, but we also know that we’ve done enough good things that we could have won two or three of those games. We’ve just got to stick with it, clean up a couple things, and score some goals.”

* * *

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic skated after missing Tuesday’s game with the flu. Tierney missed Monday’s game in Dallas, also due to illness.

Is that all gone now?

“Knock on wood. Nothing today. Hope so,” DeBoer said.