SAN JOSE –- There are a number of position-by-position comparisons to be made when looking at the respective rosters of the Sharks and Kings.
There are the sizeable, talented Selke Trophy-candidates centering the top lines in Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar. Wingers Joe Pavelski and Tyler Toffoli are natural goal scorers. Second line centers Logan Couture and Jeff Carter are skilled playmakers that can also put the puck in the net. Joel Ward and Milan Lucic bring size and ruggedness, while each reaching the 20-goal plateau. Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones put up similar stats in goal.
On defense, there are Brent Burns and Drew Doughty. The latter is the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy due to his incomparable two-way play, while the former has brought his offensive game to a new level this season while tightening up his defense.
Whichever of them has a greater influence on his team could decide whether it’s the Sharks or Kings that advance to the second round.
“I think they’re similar in their impact on the game,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “They are both on the ice for almost 30 minutes a night. They both have the puck a lot. They are both big, physical guys. They are hard to forecheck, both defend well, both have long sticks.”
The six-foot-five, 230-pound Burns finished with 75 points, second in the league among defensemen while leading all blueliners in goals with 27. Doughty, six-foot-one and 195 pounds, contributed 14 goals and 51 points while playing all 82 games. He was third in ice time-per-game at 28:03; Burns was eighth at 25:51.
DeBoer said: “I think they separate themselves from the other defensemen in the league for the fact that you can’t physically overpower them. … For carrying that type of size and weight, they are both very agile on their feet, too. That’s what puts those two in a different category, for me.”
Ward said: “Both skate well. Burnzie is probably a little bit bigger than [Doughty] is, but they cover a lot of ground out there with their feet and their mobility. Definitely a lot of similarities.”
Burns, still a left wing the last time the Sharks saw the Kings in the playoffs two years ago, admitted that it’s only natural to see a counterpart on the other side of the ice and to try and outplay him.
“I think you always do. I don’t think it changes any game, whether it’s [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson, [Shea] Weber, [Roman] Josi,” Burns said. “I think it’s natural for guys, just like a centerman – I’m sure Jumbo and Cooch are looking at Kopitar and Carter. I think hockey is that way. You line up against guys, and you want to be better.”
When the Sharks acquired Burns in the 2011 offseason, the initial plan was to have him replace Dan Boyle someday as the team’s top offensive defenseman. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, though, Todd McLellan moved him to forward to boost the team’s dormant offense. The Sharks likely would have missed the postseason had McLellan not done that.
In 2014-15 after another season at forward, Burns found himself smack in the middle of the dysfunctional campaign, and with Boyle gone and Burns back on defense, there was still some confusion over what role Burns would actually play.
There hasn’t been that ambiguity under DeBoer, who was an assistant coach with McLellan at last year’s World Championships and saw Burns thrive on defense on Team Canada. In DeBoer’s mind, he needed Burns to develop into the kind of player he’s become in the second half of the season to have a real shot at winning it all.
“Just look at the Stanley Cup champions, you don’t win without a number one, elite defenseman anymore. … They’re critical, just like a number one center is, just like a number one goalie is,” DeBoer said.
“Burnzie has just got to keep doing what he’s done all year. We don’t need to change anything. He doesn’t need to measure himself against Doughty. … We know Brent’s value here, and he’s just got to keep playing the way he has been.”