SAN JOSE- From Jan. 7 through Mar. 2, Sharks forward Brent Burns failed to score a single goal and managed just five assists. Yet during the 19-game stretch, Burns’ actual on-ice performance never faltered. Over that span Burns finished with a minus rating just five times. He finished a minus-2 or worse just once, when he ended the first game of his drought at minus-2.
For the majority of his goal scoring funk, Burns was still a major force in driving the play into the offensive zone. While he was eventually taken off the top line for a short while, the majority of the time saw him remain on the top unit with Joe Thornton.
His 67 shots on goal during the drought comes out to a 3.52 average, which is nearly identical to his 3.53 full season average.
Since returning to the forward position in March of last year, Burns has been an elite force on a San Jose’s No. 1 line. While his current 33 points in 52 games this season is only a pace for 52 points over 82 games, his sheer size, strength, and speed, give him a unique set of tools. There are few other forwards in the league that fit the true power forward definition. And those who do, like Milan Lucic and Ryane Clowe, aren’t nearly as fleet of foot.
With plus speed, and an insane reach at 6’5″, Burns is a menace on the fore-check, frequently causing turnovers that allow for extra offensive zone time. Having Burns as his right hand man has allowed Thornton to continue to perform at a point per-game level, and Joe Pavelski’s 10 goals in eight games stretch came while playing on the left side of Thornton and Burns.
Not to take anything away from Joe Pavelski’s success, 32 goals and 62 points is nearly double Burns’ point production, but Pavelski has been ridding an unusually high shooting percentage this season. His current .189 percentage is much, much higher than his career rate of .110. Furthermore, 30 of Burns’ 33 points have come at even strength, tying him with Pavelski and the Blues’ T. J Oshie for 30th in the league in even strength points per 60 minutes of ice time (2.21 p/60). Burns doesn’t play on the No. 1 Sharks power-play. If he did, his overall scoring numbers would certainly be closer to Pavelski’s.
Amazingly, during his 19 game scoreless stretch, Burns never relinquished the team lead in plus/minus. He has currently been leading the team in that category for more than eight weeks. While San Jose’s Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture line generally draws the tougher matchups, Burns’ ability to stay on the plus side is still impressive.
Also it is worth mentioning that the Sharks put together a slightly better record in sixteen games without Couture this season (10-6), than they did in thirteen games without Burns (6-3-4).
That doesn’t necessarily mean Burns is more valuable than Couture, who is on pace for 17 more points, but it is evidence to the fact Burns, like Torres, brings a special, non scoring, element to the Sharks lineup. His unique style of play and large frame at the forward position is an ingredient to the Sharks lineup that is arguably irreplaceable.
It’s no surprise Pavelski had his hot goal streak opposite a 6’5, 230 pound winger in Burns. Combined with Joe Thornton’s 6’4, 225 pound frame, those two are able to clear the way for the smaller Pavelski to sliver into the prime scoring areas.
Pavelski, like Marleau and Couture, deserves all the credit he gets for San Jose’s success. Burns however, doesn’t get enough. His role is rather analogous to an NFL defensive tackle. Just like 49ers DT Justin Smith, Burns plays a crucial role in paving the way for the his teammates to do what they do best. Unfortunately, his contributions don’t always wind up on the stat-sheet.
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