SAN JOSE – Who ever made Brent Burns a defenseman, anyway?
The Sharks’ big winger recorded his first career hat trick, including a key third period goal that put the game away, in leading the Sharks to a 6-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Friday afternoon at home.
“He’s so big and so strong and he has such a good shot. He has so much fun out there and it’s fun being part of his line,” Joe Thornton said. “I just have a smile on my face most of the game, because the stuff he does is amazing.”
“What can we say about that guy, huh? He’s a big, strong guy out there,” Tommy Wingels said. “He creates momentum for the team, he creates space for other players, and he can score some goals.”
Just how important is the six-foot-five, 230-pound former defenseman to the San Jose lineup? The Sharks are now 11-0-1 when Burns plays this season, and are averaging 4.58 goals over that span. In the 13 games Burns missed with an unspecified upper body injury, the Sharks were just 6-3-4 with just 2.54 goals per game.
It may not be a stretch to suggest that with Burns, the Sharks are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Without him, they are simply another very good club in the competitive Pacific Division.
St. Louis entered Friday’s game with the NHL’s best winning percentage, riding a five-game winning streak, and looking very much like the team many predicted before the season to go all the way. Instead, the Blues looked out of their element for the first 20 minutes, and the Sharks capitalized with four scores. Two of those came off of the stick of Burns.
The Blues regrouped after the intermission, though, and a Jaden Schwartz third period marker brought them back to within 4-3. That’s when Burns made the best play of the night, cutting from the wall to the circle and releasing a perfectly placed wrist shot over Jaroslav Halak with Joe Pavelski providing a screen on a power play.
“I think Burnzie kind of said ‘enough of this, I’m taking this one myself,” Wingels said. “When you’re big and strong and you have the skill set he does, you can do that at times. It was big goal for us to get us up two.”
Essentially, it was game over at that point, as the hats started flying onto the ice surface at SAP Center. The Blues weren't the same when the hats were cleared.
“We knew it was going to be a big game against these guys,” Burns said. “There was a lot of stuff going on, especially with the history. Two teams, we both feel we're at the top of our game. So, it was big. It was pretty special."
Burns, who assisted on Tomas Hertl’s empty-net goal, has eight goals and six assists for 14 points in 12 games. It’s been mentioned numerous times by Todd McLellan and Burns’ teammates just how good his shot is, and that was on full display against the Blues.
In the first period, Burns backed into the slot and was able to wind up and get all of a pass from Patrick Marleau to open the scoring just 35 seconds after the opening faceoff. He gave San Jose a 3-0 lead with a quick redirection on a dish from Joe Thornton at 9:14.
On the final goal, he skated himself from the blue line to the faceoff dot before lifting in that perfect snapper over Halak’s right shoulder.
"He changes his release point a lot,” McLellan said. “It's not always the same drag-and-shoot release. It can be quick, it can be long, and it's hard to read the puck coming off his tape. Goaltenders will tell you that. And he gets a lot on it."
Burns, who had the entire offseason to train as a forward after converting from defense last season, is constantly trying to improve his shot, he said.
"I think it's kind of one of those things you always work on,” he said. “Coming here was great. [Sharks assistant coach Jay Woodcroft] is always out there early working on shots with everybody.
“I think it started for me back in Minnesota with Jacques [Lemaire]. He was always on me about my weak shot at the start. It's something you always work on. It's just one of those things.”
The Sharks would surely welcome Burns’ shooting ability to get even better. In the meantime, they’ll continue to enjoy what they have in him right now.
“When he’s shooting it, that’s when he’s playing his best,” Logan Couture said. “He’s a shooter, and he plays with the best passer in the world (Thornton), so we expect him to score goals, and he scored a couple big ones for us tonight.”