Programming note: Sharks-Blues coverage begins today at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California
ST. LOUIS – Brent Burns’ return to the lineup on Tuesday in St. Louis is all but confirmed, and it will be in an entirely new role when the Sharks conclude their season series with the Blues at Scottrade Center.
Burns, who missed the last seven games with a left leg injury, will start the game on the right wing with Scott Gomez and James Sheppard, rather than on defense, which is where he’s spent almost his entire nine-year NHL career.
“I think he looks good,” Gomez said. “He’s talented enough and skilled enough to play either position in the NHL."
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Gomez continued: “He’s kind of a free spirit, anyway. He’s one of those guys that just enjoys playing. It’s good to see him back in the lineup, we’ll start with that. It’s good to have him around, and his energy, and him being excited to play.”
Burns, who is scoreless in six games with a -5 rating, was asked what he could bring to the lineup up front.
“It’s just going to be a matter of skating and trying to shoot the puck,” he said. “Use my body, and protect the puck. I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Todd McLellan said Burns would probably see time on defense, too, likely on the second power play unit.
“If he gets cleared and he plays, we’ll probably play him up front and on the back end a little bit – a bit of a rover,” said the head coach. “We’ll see if we can use his speed and his shot to create up front, but obviously there’s an asset to having him back there. He’ll see some power play time, as well.”
Playing forward isn’t completely unfamiliar to Burns, although he couldn’t remember the last time it happened. McLellan used him as a forward in 2004-05, when McLellan was the head coach of the AHL’s Houston Aeros, where Burns played during the NHL’s lockout year. According to HockeyReference.com, Burns switched to defense in 2007, but played forward as recently as 2009 for a short stretch.
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“We had him as a forward in the American League for awhile, and he was very effective,” McLellan said. “There was a time in his career where he was an in-between guy. [Head coach] Jacques [Lemaire] in the Minnesota Wild used him up front, and used him on the back.
“We’ll tap into that a little bit, and see where it goes and what can come out of it. He’s still a tremendous defenseman with a tremendous amount of skill back there, but we’re trying to play to what our needs are right now, and maybe he can help us.”
As McLellan alluded to, defense hasn’t been the Sharks’ problem as they’ve struggled to win games. The team has allowed just 2.25 goals per game, fifth in the league, but is tied with the Nashville Predators for the fewest goals in the NHL with 52.
Perhaps Burns, who has missed 17 of 24 games this year due to injury (and one as a healthy scratch), can help in that regard.
“We just feel that he has some offensive assets that we can tap into,” McLellan said.
Burns said: “Just to get back is good, and to help in any way I can.”
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It appears that Burns’ presence up front will result in Tim Kennedy sitting. Kennedy has played in all 12 games since he was recalled from Worcester on Feb. 12, with two goals and no assists.
The Blues could get forward Alex Steen back, as Steen skated on the top line in the morning skate after missing the last seven games with a shoulder injury. Ken Hitchcock wouldn’t confirm Steen’s return, though.
Antti Niemi will face St. Louis’ Jake Allen in net.