Sharks' Burns finds his game after line demotion

Sharks' Burns finds his game after line demotion
March 10, 2014, 9:45 am
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Brent Burns has 13 hits in his last three games, including a team-high four on Saturday vs. Montreal. (USATSI)

Brent Burns’ 17 goals this year ties his career high, set in 2010-11 with Minnesota. (USATSI)

Programming note: Canadiens-Sharks coverage starts Tuesday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California

SAN JOSE – When Sharks coach Todd McLellan rearranged his forward lines halfway through a game in New Jersey on March 2, it was designed not only to get his whole offense going, but one player in particular.

Brent Burns was removed from his regular place on the Joe Thornton line and skated on a third line with James Sheppard and Raffi Torres against the Devils. He started in that spot two days later against Carolina.

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Consider it a message received, as Burns has played some of his best games of late, not only breaking out of a lengthy scoring slump but using his gigantic frame to harass opposing defenders. He ended a 19-game goal-scoring drought against the Hurricanes, and potted two goals against the Penguins two nights later. He has 13 hits in his last three games, including a team-high four on Saturday vs. Montreal.

“Burnzie was held accountable for his play with a demotion, moving down a line or two. Perhaps that jolted him and woke him up a little bit,” McLellan said before the Canadiens game Saturday, a 4-0 Sharks win. “Sometimes you can get into a comfortable rut, just showing up at the rink, going ‘I’m on this line, here we go, it will change.’ You need to be jolted a little bit, and I think he received that.

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“I think he’s happy playing with the Thornton and Pavelski pair, and wants to stay there, and we’ve seen a better couple games from him since that.”

After the win over the Penguins, Burns’ best game in weeks in which he scored twice and was creating havoc all over the ice, the 29-year-old said he never really felt like he was out of his groove. In the 19 games he went without a goal, Burns had 67 shots on goal, for an average of more than three-and-a-half per game.

Still…

“I don’t like not scoring,” Burns said. “When you see [19] games, that’s pretty tough … Some of those games I was getting seven or eight shots. It’s hard to stay positive. It’s easy to be smiling when it’s going well.

“I think it’s a special thing with this team. The guys, we talked about it today, picking another guy up when the little [bleep]-storm happens.”

Burns has shown how important he is to the team up front ever since he was moved from defense nearly a full calendar year ago. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Sharks are 51-23-4 with Burns playing forward, with an average of 2.92 goals per game. They are just 15-10-10 with 2.26 goals-per game when he’s either out of the lineup or playing defense.

Burns’ 17 goals this year ties his career high, set in 2010-11 with Minnesota.