LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings are one of the biggest, toughest teams in the NHL. They have been so successful the past two seasons in part because of their ability to make their size and toughness an advantage, wearing out opposing teams with their brand of "heavy hockey."
That's why it was surprising to hear Kings coach Darryl Sutter say Thursday morning his team has had trouble dealing with the size of the top line for the San Jose Sharks. He's even going to make a tactical change to combat the problem for Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round Series at Staples Center (10:30 ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-SW, CSN-CA).
Sutter is moving captain Dustin Brown to his top line, and the expectation will be for him to help neutralize San Jose's Joe Thornton and Brent Burns.
"I think they've played their game, the same way they've played all year," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "[Burns] is somewhat reckless, which enhances his ability to play. He's a big body that goes [hard]. [Thornton] has always been 6-foot-4 for … however many years. They're on the same line together and they've done a good job to this point."
The Sharks have been able to match the Kings in the physical play department, and it hasn't just been their role players. Thornton has been great in this series, and a big part of that is his ability to possess the puck and help prolong shifts in the offensive zone.
"It's not easy [to get the puck off him]. He's a big, huge guy with the skill and the vision to make great plays," said veteran San Jose defenseman Brad Stuart, who has spent many nights trying to defend Thornton in his career. "He can hold you off and wait for someone to get open, and that makes it hard. He's a big guy with the skill and vision of somebody that you wouldn't expect to have.
"Sometimes with guys that are big and strong like that, you can play a certain way and wait for them to make the first move. Against a guy who can find the open player like that, you don't want to give him time. That makes it difficult. How do you approach it? That's what makes him such a good player."
Burns spent most of his career as a defenseman, but the transition to forward has suited him. He certainly has the temperament to be a power forward. As McLellan said, Burns' top attributes are his ability to be physical and his willingness to shoot the puck.
He has 16 shots on goal in the three games, which is the most in this series and third in the NHL on a per-game basis. Thornton, Burns and Joe Pavelski are three of the Sharks' top five forwards in Corsi for percentage (shot attempts) at even strength in the series.
"He's one of those guys in practice where you kind of just have to get out of the way because he's coming," Stuart said. "I don't want to make this sound bad, but he's reckless in a way. You don't know what he's going to do, and that makes it hard as an opposing player. He's so big, but is he going to take the body on you, is he going to steal the puck, is he going to toe drag you or go through you? He's another good combination of size and skill.
"I think someone said it earlier, but if he doesn't know what he's going to do, then how is anyone on the other team going to know? That's his style, and he's done a good job of kind of harnessing some of that and using it in a good way. It's very effective."
Here are the projected lineups for the Sharks and Kings, who are likely to scratch one of their forwards to make room for a seventh defenseman:
Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
Tomas Hertl - James Sheppard - Tommy Wingels
Raffi Torres - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun
Scott Hannan - Dan Boyle
Scratched: Matt Irwin, Matt Tennyson, Marty Havlat, Bracken Kearns, Tyler Kennedy
Injured: Adam Burish (hand)
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford – Mike Richards – Trevor Lewis
Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr – Slava Voynov
Willie Mitchell – Alec Martinez
Scratched: Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan