SAN JOSE – When Justin Braun was lost for two games recently with an infection in his elbow, the Sharks’ depth on defense was again brought into focus.
While the inexperienced third defense pair was a risky play, the Sharks were fortunate to have Brenden Dillon around to at least fill the void left by Braun in the top four.
The 25-year-old’s play seems to be continually improving, and he fit in well with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. In 24 games this season, Dillon has 1 goal and 3 assists along with a +7 rating, the highest among Sharks defensemen.
He admitted last year was a tough transition after he was acquired from Dallas in November.
“I’m a big rangy guy, and we had a system in Dallas where we’d use two hands on a stick, and that’s what the coach wanted. As soon as I got here, [Sharks coaches] Larry [Robinson] and Jimmy Johnson wanted me to change it a little bit. I think there was that adjustment period where you’re thinking, watching the game and not really reacting.
“I think this year coming in, right from training camp having a full couple weeks to get in and know how things are going to be, for me personally that was invaluable.”
The solid six-foot-four, 225-pound blueliner’s tireless work ethic off of the ice allowed him to better prepare for a rebound season.
“After last year, I wasn’t happy with how my season went. I thought I could have been a lot better,” he said. “I made that a focus, whether that was working on my skating, working on my shot, watching video. Coming into this year, I wanted to be that much better.”
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Brent Burns took exception to a suggestion here that he should have stayed on his feet on the Penguins’ second goal on Tuesday. Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin put a shot on net that was stopped by Martin Jones, but Matt Cullen banked the loose puck into the net off of the back of Jones’ pad at 4:40 of the second period giving the Pens a 2-0 advantage.
The big defenseman has a tendency to drop to the ice frequently on odd man rushes, and there are differing philosophies on whether that’s the right technique. Pete DeBoer doesn’t think Burns should change a thing, though.
“I thought it was a great decision. He’s broken up probably a half dozen sure goals on two-on-ones by doing that,” said the coach. “I thought it was the right decision at that point. Made the kid get the shot up in the air, and it actually ended up being a harmless play behind the net that probably shouldn’t have gone in.
“I think Burnzie’s decision making defensively on the ice has been fantastic.”
The mistake on the play actually came earlier when Mike Brown went for a big hit, leaving the Penguins players room to operate after a faceoff win in their offensive zone. That prompted a visit to the coach’s office.
“I had a talk with Pete today. Our line can’t be a minus line,” Brown said. “We’re kind of getting scored on a little bit too much right now, and we can’t be a liability out there. We’ve got to sharpen that part of our game up, but it is good to know that we have the personnel and the players on the fourth line that can play and produce, and we can spend time in their zone. It’s good to know he has that confidence.”
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Mirco Mueller was reassigned to the Barracuda on Thursday. Six weeks into the season, the Sharks are still looking for someone to secure that sixth defenseman spot, whether it’s Mueller, Matt Tennyson or someone else.
Mueller didn’t get much ice time in the third period against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. DeBoer has had a tendency to limit the minutes of Mueller and Tennyson late in games.
“Until you establish yourself, until you get the coach’s trust, it’s hard to get the benefit of the doubt. That’s what all young players battle,” he said. “In order to get that benefit of the doubt you’ve got to string together eight or 10 really good games. That’s just the reality of it. ... I think we’re getting a little closer. There’s been a good game or two, a couple that we can’t have those drop-offs."
"There's no doubt Mirco Mueller, this is part of his development. Whether he becomes a full-time valuable NHL player at Christmas or whether it's next year at Christmas, this is all part of it."
The Sharks had yet to recall a seventh defenseman for Thursday's practice, but will add a body for the flight later to Anaheim.