Sharks rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan told reporters at Wednesday's morning skate that he would make his playoff debut in Game 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights. San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer would only say that Ryan, as well as a few other players, were "game-time decisions."
But Ryan left the ice before Paul Martin, Burns' defensive partner since the rookie went down with an upper-body injury and missed a game against the Vancouver Canucks on March 17, multiple reporters at the skate observed. Adjusting for score and venue, Martin posted a 41.18 percent five-on-five corsi-for percentage, 44.34 percent scoring chance-for percentage, and 36.15 percent high-danger chance for percentage in the first three games of the series, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Martin was also on the ice for William Karlsson's game-winning, overtime goal in Game 3, unable to catch up to the Sin City speedster following some confusion in the neutral zone. Ryan is a younger, more mobile option, so the reasoning behind a switch is understandable.
However, Martin played very well alongside Burns so it's worth examining how his on-ice results alongside Burns compared to Ryan's, as the table below attempts to do.
|Stat||88-7 (265:48 TOI)||88-47 (769:04 TOI)|
Those are remarkably similar numbers, but there are some important differences. Martin and Burns attempted shots and generated high-quality chances at slightly higher rates five-on-five, while Ryan and Burns allowed shot attempts, shots, and expected goals at lower rates. The Golden Knights bettered the Sharks in those areas with Burns and Martin on the ice in this series. Considering how strong Vegas' top line has looked, San Jose needs to limit opportunities from players not named Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith.
Based on his play this season, Ryan can help in that regard. He's also been strong defensively in the spots where the Golden Knights like to work. Five-on-five, the Golden Knights have scored three of their eight goals in the second round from in and around the right face-off dot, as the following heat map from Natural Stat Trick shows.
That area is where Ryan did some of his best work defensively, which is what the heat map from HockeyViz below illustrates. With Ryan on the ice at full strength, the Sharks allowed shots from their left side at a rate lower than league average.
Now, Ryan's not played in a month-and-a-half, and even though he's younger and a better skater than Martin, there could be a bit of an adjustment period for him in his first playoff game on Wednesday. His body of work from the regular season, though, suggests he may just be what the Sharks need defensively.