SAN JOSE – When offenses are struggling to produce, attention naturally turns towards the superstars. Edmonton’s attack plainly relied on 100-point scorer Connor McDavid during the regular season, while the Sharks counted on Norris Trophy favorite and leading scorer Brent Burns to dent the scoreboard.
Through the first three games of the Sharks-Oilers first round series, though, neither has done a whole lot. McDavid has been held to one shorthanded goal and a secondary assist on the power play, and has just six shots, while Burns has been kept from the scoresheet completely.
There have been just eight total goals, with Edmonton, which leads the series two games to one, getting five of them.
“It’s just [the] playoffs. That’s what happens every year, I think,” Burns said. “It’s hard to create.”
At some point, though, Burns will have to find a way to do just that if the Sharks are to have a chance at advancing. In Game 1 he was in top form, generating eight shots on goal and a whopping 18 attempts. In games two and three, though, Burns has been held to a combined five shots and 11 attempts.
The Oilers’ ability to nullify Burns in games two and three is the primary reason why the Sharks haven’t scored in 120 minutes since Melker Karlsson’s overtime winner in Game 1.
What are they doing right?
“I’m sure their coaching staff and everyone scouting, [like] we would do on McDavid, they’ve done on Brent,” partner Paul Martin said. “They know he’s got a great shot and is able to get it through. They’re playing him high and taking away that middle of the ice for those shots, whether they be tipped or to the net, and blocking shots.”
Logan Couture said: “They're doing a good job on our D-men. Obviously they know that our D-men create a lot of offense for us and they shoot the puck a lot. They're playing our D high, and it's three-on-three down low on the forwards, so the forwards have to do a better job of creating offense."
Burns didn’t express any frustration on Monday after an optional practice.
“That’s the fun part, is earning it and going through that,” he said. “This is the time you want to play. It’s fun. Every game is so tight, and one bounce – it’s working to create that bounce. That’s why it’s fun.”
While the Sharks need more offense, whether it’s from Burns or elsewhere, they’ll attempt to keep doing what they’ve been doing against McDavid. The unparalleled bursts of speed often seen from the 20-year-old haven’t been nearly as numerous as they were during the regular season, especially late when McDavid posted a 14-game point streak headed into his first career playoff run.
Martin mentioned the obvious objective of keeping McDavid in his defensive end, but when he has the puck, the Sharks are “trying to clog the middle with him there. Our D have been doing a good job of managing the puck. If we were turning the puck over…the more we give him the more chances he’s going to make something good happen.”
DeBoer was coy when asked what the Sharks have done to limit McDavid’s chances.
“I’ll tell you after the series is over, if we can keep doing it. That’s a big if,” he quipped.
It could very well be that the first team that gets more from its biggest star will end up advancing to the second round.
If McDavid breaks out in Game 4, it could be curtains on the Sharks’ season. If Burns is able to replicate his Game 1 performance, though, and maybe get a few fortunate bounces that never came that night, the Sharks will reclaim the momentum.
Burns said: “I think both teams are playing really tight. … You’ve just got to work for those bounces and stay confident. And pray to the hockey gods, I guess.”