SAN JOSE – The smile on Logan Couture’s face grew a mile wide when he was asked about playing with the Sharks’ newest forward, Brent Burns.
“He’s an animal out there. He’s reckless, but it’s in a good way,” Couture said, through a gaping grin. “On forward, he really doesn’t have to think. He just goes in there and plays his game. He’s a big body, strong, skates well, shoots well. I enjoy playing with him.”
And, why wouldn’t he? Couture was the beneficiary of an aggressive forechecking move by Burns, when Burns poked the puck away from Kings defenseman Alec Martinez and skated in a two-on-none rush before feeding Couture for an easy goal. That happened early in the third period, gave the Sharks a 4-1 lead, and turned out to be the game-winner in an important 4-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champs on Thursday night at HP Pavilion.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks 4, Kings 3]
In fact, both Sharks even-strength goals were generated primarily by those two. In the first period, Couture found Burns open in the slot, and Burns fired the puck past Jonathan Quick at 11:09 to give San Jose a lead it would not relinquish. The other two markers came on the power play, including another by Couture and one from defenseman Matt Irwin.
Burns was the most noticeable forward for the duration of the game, though. Like his linemate, he, too, is enjoying the experiment in what was his second game up front after a seven-game absence due to injury. He's scored a goal in each of the two games, including Tuesday in St. Louis.
“The pressure is different playing forward than when you’re playing D,” he said. “You have three other guys to protect you behind you. It’s just a different game. Playing with [Couture and Thornton], I keep saying it, it’s pretty fun to do that.”
He continued: “You can try a lot more things as a forward than you can if you’re a d-man. You can try to beat a guy 1-on-1, and when you’re the last guy back, you can’t do that. It’s just a different game. When you haven’t been able to do it in awhile, it’s fun.”
Head coach Todd McLellan, who broke the franchise record for wins by a head coach with 207, said on Thursday morning that the plan is to get Burns back on the blue line at some point. A few more games like the last two, though, and that decision will have to be delayed indefinitely. For the second straight game, the Sharks offense looked dangerous, and that’s something that hasn’t been said nearly often enough since the calendar flipped to February.
“He’s doing a tough job of it, but we’ll cross that path when and if we need to, obviously,” McLellan said. “We like what he’s doing right now. He’s brought some energy to the team, and he’s a very effective forward.”
“He looks like he’s having a lot of fun doing it. As long as it stays that way, we can keep experimenting with it.”
Burns’ all-around game and Couture’s three-point night (2g, 1a) keyed the win, but the biggest play came from one of the team’s role players. Andrew Desjardins’ bone-rattling hit of Colin Fraser behind the Sharks net gave the Sharks a four-minute power play, after Jake Muzzin instigated a fight with the Sharks’ fourth-line forward.
Irwin’s wrist shot and Couture’s blast from high in the zone staked the Sharks a 3-0 second period lead with 11:26 left in the middle frame.
Desjardins, who has been a healthy scratch in two of the last eight games, was glad to make an impact.
“Just trying to play physical, obviously, and pick my spots to do so,” he said. “It happened that way, and it’s just good to get the guys going.”
Thornton said: “He turned the outlook of the game totally around with the hit. Getting the four-minute power play, and we executed on the power play. We love when he plays like that and he just has to continue to play like that.”
Burns, too, gave credit to Desjardins for turning the tide of the game.
“It looked like a great hit. When he does that for us, it’s huge,” he said. “I think it makes him very effective, and obviously it changed the game. It was clean, and it was a great hit, and he had a big tilt after. Emotionally, that’s a huge for a team to see a guy doing that. It was a big swing.”
When Couture's goal made it 4-1, it marked the first time the Sharks reached four goals in a game in more than six weeks. San Jose beat Vancouver on Jan. 27 at home, 4-1, which was also the last time the Sharks held a lead of at least three goals.
Of course, if you thought it would be smooth sailing at that point, you haven’t been paying close attention lately. The Kings showed the kind of energy and drive that helped them to a Stanley Cup last June, and crept back to within 4-3 on goals from Dustin Brown and Dwight King. King’s goal came with 3:20 left on the clock, and the sellout crowd grew apprehensive.
So, too, did the bench, according to McLellan.
“There was some anxiousness,” said the head coach. “You could tell we probably haven’t won on a consistent basis. We’re reestablishing some type of confidence. I thought where we failed a little bit down the stretch is, we didn’t continue to forecheck. We were an effective team on the forecheck, and now we were going to stand off and defend, and you can’t do that against a good team like that.”
Still, the Sharks pocketed a much needed two points, and for just the third time in their last 21 games, didn’t allow their opponent a point, either. At 12-8-6, the Sharks have 30 points after 26 games, same as the 14-10-2 Kings.
The teams go right back at it again on Saturday night at the Staples Center.
“Hopefully, we can build off of it. It’s nice to win in regulation again,” Couture said. “We’ll go into L.A., and hopefully get another win.”
* * *
McLellan’s 207th win moved him ahead of Ron Wilson for first all-time in Sharks franchise history.
Just as he did when he tied the mark in Vancouver on March 5, McLellan downplayed the achievement.
“We talked about this earlier. The important wins haven’t happened in this organization yet. There hasn’t been a coach here yet that’s had an opportunity to win the last game he’s coached. It’s just another day for us. We’re scrambling hard, we’re in the trenches, and that’s about it for that milestone.”