Niemi brilliant, Sharks open road trip with shootout victory
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BOSTON – It’s difficult to try and pinpoint any specific element that is missing from a team that’s gone 8-0-1 in its first nine.
But the Sharks’ acquisition of tough guy Mike Brown on Monday, in exchange for a fourth round pick to Edmonton, could be viewed as a sign that management isn’t thrilled with some of the hits its players have been taking. Dan Boyle and Tomas Hertl were each on the receiving end of dirty checks that resulted in suspensions, but there have been several others, including Tim Jackman’s shoulder to the head of Justin Braun on Saturday against Calgary and Antoine Roussel pummeling Matt Irwin in Dallas last Thursday.
Raffi Torres and Adam Burish, who would typically be called upon to respond in those situations or whose presence would help deter such incidents in the first place, are out with long-term injuries. Enter Brown, who joined his new team in Boston on Wednesday, and could help fill the void that Torres and Burish have left.
“It’s like playing against Raffi and Burr,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “They are fast, play hard, they have a lot of grit and are in your face. Brown does that.”
Vlasic continued: “We’re missing grit, and they brought in some grit.”
Todd McLellan praised that aspect of Brown’s game, too, but in today’s NHL those types of players have to be able to keep up with the pace of play. Brown can do that, according to the head coach.
“He can move on the ice surface,” McLellan said. “He’s quick, and he plays a pretty abrasive game. Those are ingredients that we think we need. If he wasn’t as quick as he was he might not fit what we want to do, but we think he brings a quickness element, as well.”
As for Brown, he voiced his excitement from going to first place San Jose from last place Edmonton, which still can’t seem to get is game together and is seventh in the Pacific Division (3-6-1, seven points).
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He figures that the move was made to try and replace what’s missing with the Sharks’ injury situation.
“I think that’s mainly the reason why I’m here,” Brown said. “I play the same way, and I’ve already talked to Todd, and they brought me in here because of how I play. It’s that energy role that I play, and what I’ve done over the years of what they need.”
Fighting, too, is at the forefront of Brown’s game. The five-foot-11, 202-pounder, a middleweight by NHL standards, finished last season third in the league in penalty minutes with 123. His 13 major penalties were tied for second, as he split the shortened season between Edmonton and Toronto.
“If I need to fight, then I’m there to change the momentum or protect and back up my teammates,” Brown said. “I’m a big believer in team toughness, so when something happens to our team, I’m a big believer that everybody should be involved.”
Brown’s presence alone could help prevent future incidents from occurring, according to some of his new teammates.
“I think everyone on this team plays hard, but there are certain guys when you look at a lineup that you think twice about that you know might be barreling down on you in a corner, or agitating to play against,” Tommy Wingels said. “In that sense, his presence will be noticed, and we’re looking forward to getting him in the lineup.”
Logan Couture said: “Having someone like Brownie, hopefully other guys will think twice before they do that.”
McLellan’s message to Brown? Don’t change a thing, starting on Thursday night against the Bruins.
“Mike Brown obviously has a reputation of being physical and taking care of himself and his teammates. We don’t expect him to change his game. When he comes in, he’s going to play the same way. And, he does bring that element.”
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McLellan confirmed that Brent Burns would miss Thursday's game in Boston. Burns also sat out on Monday in Detroit with a facial/dental injury. Freddie Hamilton is likely to remain in the lineup on a line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl.
Antti Niemi will start in net.