SAN JOSE – For the first couple weeks of the season, the decision to move Brent Burns back to the blue line seemed to be trending in the right direction.
Sure, Burns still had some troubles in his own zone, but offensively he was the Sharks' biggest weapon through October.
In fact, on Nov. 1, Burns led the Sharks with 13 points (4g, 9a) and was the NHL’s leading scorer among defensemen. His plus/minus rating was even, reflecting his penchant of being on the ice for goals-against, too, but the hope was that the 29-year-old would be able to maintain his offensive output while improving on his defensive positioning and decision-making.
Instead of taking that step, though, Burns seems to have regressed since his early success. He has just four even-strength points (2g, 2a), and six overall in his last 13 games, with both goals coming in the same game in Dallas on Nov. 8. He’s also a team-worst -9 over that span.
Coach Todd McLellan doesn’t seem worried about Burns’ offense, pointing to the fact that before the 6-4 win over the Ducks on Saturday, many key players were suffering through scoring droughts. Burns is still getting plenty of pucks towards the net – he’s fourth on the team in shots with 75, and is second in the league in missed shots with 46, behind only Alexander Ovechkin.
“The offensive part of it isn’t a big concern. Those numbers will come eventually when everybody else starts scoring,” McLellan said.
The defending, though? More than a quarter of the way through the season, it’s still an ongoing project.
McLellan, like many others in the hockey community, doesn’t put a whole lot of weight into the plus/minus rating. Instead, he looks at scoring chances for and against when a player is on the ice.
How’s that going for Burns?
“There’s nights that have been really positive, and there have been other nights that have not been so good,” McLellan said.
“The video, the practice time – it’s a daily process. Throughout his career he’s had to work hard in that area. He went away from it for two years, so now he’s starting to gather it all up again and proceed with it.”
McLellan is referring to Burns’ past two seasons of playing forward, of course. There are still no plans whatsoever to move Burns back up front, although it’s a question as to whether McLellan would even be permitted to do that, after general manager Doug Wilson announced the decision to move Burns back to the blue line early in the summer.
Burns wasn’t very chatty, to say the least, after Monday’s practice. When asked to assess his play this season, he simply replied, “It’s OK.” As for anything he's specifically working on defensively, Burns said: “Just the game.”
The enduring hope is that Burns and new partner Brenden Dillon can form a reliable second defense pair behind one of the league’s best defensive duos in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.
“Hopefully, Brent and Dillon – or whoever the partners might be – formulate a relationship and a pair that’s productive. I think it can come,” McLellan said.