SAN JOSE- Defenseman Brent Burns is in his first year as a San Jose Shark. It is his first year as a teammate of goaltender Antti Niemi. Yet in Tuesday night’s 6-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Burns made a phenomenal defensive play to help preserve Niemi’s shutout.
There was less than a minute remaining in the game and when Burns sprinted back into his own zone to deny a clear cut breakaway opportunity with a diving poke check.
As Sharks head coach Todd McLellan pointed out, Burns may have been partially responsible for the breakaway happening in the first place. But that said, coming back hard and preserving the shutout demonstrates the type of character evident in the Sharks’ locker room.
“You always try to do it” commented Burns on his shutout saving back-check. “I think you do it at anytime.”
Burns gave the impression that even if the score was 6-1 at the time, he still would have worked back to save his goaltender from a possible second goal allowed.
That type of commitment certainly gains the attention of his teammates.
“For us in the locker room, getting a shutout for Nemo is a pretty big deal” commented Sharks forward Jamie McGinn. “We were on our heels a little bit there giving up a breakaway but Burnzie made a great effort to get back and poke it away and make sure to seal the shutout. It shows a lot of character and what a close group we are as well.”
“It was great. Burnzie came flying back there and got his stick on the puck and knocked it away.” chimed winger Ryane Clowe. “At that stage everyone’s kind of holding their breath saying ‘cmon get him the shutout’. I know it was a great play and I’m sure Nemo will give him a little thank you for that.”
“We were rallying at the end on the bench saying ‘let’s get this last five for Nemo,’” added rookie forward Andrew Desjardins. “It was obviously a great diving play, very character move, it was awesome.”
For those who have been around the team these last two seasons, there is a notable difference in atmosphere this year as compared to a year ago.
When McGinn comments on how close of a group he and his teammates have, he is doing more than just giving a politically correct statement.
While it is certainly probable that similar sentiments were offered by Sharks players last season, the vibe around last year’s squad wasn’t the same.
Last season defenseman Dan Boyle commented about a lot of players taking the night off after a game against the Kings and Clowe ripped unnamed teammates for caring more about scoring points than winning games.
But this season is different. Players like Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are now in Minnesota and players like Burns, Martin Havlat, and Michal Handzus are now in San Jose.
And as Burns showed with his diving defensive play, this year’s Sharks squad is committed to playing defense no matter the score.
And that type of commitment level will be needed in order to bring the first Cup to San Jose.