SAN JOSE- One of the primary indications that an NHL team is a true Stanley Cup contender is the ability to withstand injuries. Thus far this season, the San Jose Sharks have been without Raffi Torres for all 21 games (as he recovers from preseason knee surgery) and have been without Brent Burns for the past 13 contests.
Sure enough the Sharks still boast names like Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Antti Niemi- whom have remained healthy all season but Burns and Torres bring that different spice to the Sharks roster.
In the first eight games of the season San Jose went 7-0-1 with Burns picking up eight points and making the Thornton line nearly impossible to stop.
However, since then the Sharks have played their past 13 games without Torres and Burns in the lineup. Not only are Burns and Torres two of the Sharks’ best five-on-five scorers, but both bring similar assets in terms of their unpredictability.
Much like in baseball, when hard throwing pitchers can often be described as “effectively wild” both Burns and Torres bring that chaotic element to the Sharks lineup. Not only are both players unafraid to deliver a strong check, but their speed, size, and unorthodox styles can be extremely hard to defend.
And while the other aforementioned Sharks forwards won’t ever be taken lightly, defenses generally have a good understanding of what to expect from them.
Burns and Torres on the other hand are much more unpredictable in their style of play and that can cause a lot of confusion among opposing defenders. The phrase “loose cannon” has been heard on more than one occasion inside the Sharks dressing room to describe Burns’ style.
Loose cannon in this case being a compliment.
Burns, who has been out with what has been described as facial/gum/sinus injury and rumored by some to be a concussion, is listed at 6’5″ 220 pounds. Amongst his many assets is an incredible stick reach that allows him to cover large portions of the ice while merely standing still. With his speed and size, he is a menace shielding the puck in the corners and his wickedly powerful shot is a perfect complement to Thornton’s passing ability. Not to mention last season Burns tallied more points five on five while at forward than any other forward not named Sidney Crosby. (Factoid courtesy of our friends at fearthefin.com)
As for Torres, most hockey followers are familiar with his work. Many still criticize him for his past suspensions but over the last 12-15 months he has really worked on refining his game much like the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Cooke.
When you remove the negative bias over Torres’ suspension past, what lies underneath is a tremendously effective two way player who scored at a higher clip at even strength last season than players like Anze Kopitar, Bobby Ryan, Pavel Datsyuk, and Claude Giroux, just to name a few.
In other words, Torres is quite the dynamite top-9 winger you want on your team.
With Torres and Burns on the mend, the Sharks have proven themselves a legit contender by putting together a respectable 6-3-4 mark. Both players are due back at some point this season, Burns most likely in the next few weeks (or sooner) and Torres in a couple months.
The Sharks have been a dangerous team even in their absence and in their presence come playoffs, it is difficult to point to an ingredient lacking on their roster.
As always, for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch