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Sharks' Burns ready for second game as forward

Thursday, 03.14.2013 / 6:10 PM
Eric Gilmore  - NHL.com Correspondent

SAN JOSE - San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he was just trying to help "fix" his team's problems on offense when he moved defenseman Brent Burns to right wing Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.

Burns opened the game on the third line, scored his first goal of the season at 11:41 of the second period and jumped to the top line with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture before that period ended.

Burns will play on the top line with Thornton and Couture from the outset Thursday night at HP Pavilion when the Sharks face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for the first time this season.

Thornton considered that to be great news.

"He's a pretty good defenseman, but I think he's going to be an even better forward," Thornton said of Burns after the Sharks' morning skate. "I love him. I've only played two periods with him, but he's big, he's strong. He skates real well. He seems like a perfect fit for me and Logan."

McLellan said he thinks the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Burns "eventually" will return to the blue line but doesn't know when.

"We feel like we have depth on the blue line, and if we have that depth and we're going to have somebody sitting out because you can't dress seven or eight every night, we might as well tap into it," McLellan said. "I think [Burns] can help us up front. He got us a goal the other day. Long term, however long that might be, he's still a valuable defenseman. I'm sure we'll see him back there eventually."

Burns has been a defenseman for most of his NHL career -- he made the All-Star team in 2011 with the Minnesota Wild -- but he has some experience as a wing. He played some forward during the 2004-05 season for the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League, Minnesota's top minor-league affiliate. His coach? McLellan. He also played a short stint at forward for the Wild during the 2008-09 season, three seasons before coming to San Jose in a trade.

Burns said he was surprised "a little bit" but also "excited" when McLellan told him his plan.

"I don't really mind," Burns said. "It's just good to get to play. Obviously if somebody says they want you here for a certain reason, you do it. Other guys can look at it as a negative thing, but to me it's just a positive."

Burns has played only seven games this season. After undergoing offseason sports hernia surgery, he missed the first 10 games. Burns made his debut Feb. 9 against Phoenix and played six of seven games, but he injured his left leg Feb. 23 at Dallas. He missed the next seven games before returning to the lineup Tuesday -- as a forward.

Burns played 18:11 against the Blues, including 2:41 on the power play. He had three shots and two hits along with his goal. Burns found an opening in the high slot, took a pass from Scott Gomez and ripped a slap shot that got through the Blues' defense and past goaltender Jake Allen.

"He's got a lot of offensive skills," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're going to treat him as if he's is one of their top forwards. He's fast, he's got good hands, a good shot. So he's definitely someone we've got to pay special attention to."

The Sharks have scored two or fewer goals in regulation in 14 of their past 15 games are in desperate need of and offensive spark as they begin one of the most crucial stretches of its season. They play the Kings at home, then begin a five-game road trip against Los Angeles on Saturday. That road trip includes two games against Anaheim, as well as games at Edmonton and Minnesota.

Although the Sharks lost 4-2 at St. Louis, they had 41 shots -- two shy of their season high -- and Burns deserves some credit, McLellan said, for energizing San Jose's attack.

"He brought some size up front, some speed with size I guess is the best way to put it," McLellan said. "Can skate. Played very aggressive. And I don't mean aggressively running over guys. I mean aggressive on the puck and making plays with it, and he's got a tremendous release.

"He had a lot of enthusiasm in the game, too. He was excited to be back out, and it kind of rubbed off on people."

Burns doesn't expect his transition to forward to get any easier Thursday night, despite having one game of experience.

"I think the first time you get carried a lot by emotions," Burns said. "It's a matter of doing it consistently -- just got to keep going."

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