Defense headlines matchup of two division leaders

By Daniel Reedy:

Defenseman Brent Burns didn’t take long to assure Sharks fans that his $64 million contract extension was deserved.

Burns signed the deal just one day after picking up assists on both of Pacific Division-leading San Jose’s goals in a home victory against the Chicago Blackhawks.

One night later on Nov. 25, he launched a slap shot from nearly center ice against the New York Islanders that flew past former Sharks’ netminder Thomas Greiss. He went on to assist on the game-winning goal with less than a minute left in third period.

The tenacious Burns is most known for his offensive dominance, but even more impressive than the goal was his stonewalling of Islanders’ forward Nikolay Kulemin after Sharks’ goalie Aaron Dell was caught out of position. Burns followed up his starring performance with an incredible, diving denial of Kings’ forward Trevor Lewis two nights ago. Burns stopped the shot with his stick and sprawled on the ice punched the puck away from the net.

The 6 foot 5, 230 pound Burns leads NHL defensemen with nine goals, just one ahead of Montreal’s Shea Weber. Burns led NHL blueliners last season with 27 goals. Weber finished fourth, scoring 20 goals for the Nashville Predators.

Weber joined the Habs in exchange for P.K. Subban over the summer in the biggest trade of the offseason.

San Jose’s 25-year-old phenom Martin Jones ranks third among goalies in the wins column and finished last season with the same ranking; but the Canadiens sport Carey Price, arguably the best goaltender in the world.

Price leads the league with 13 wins and led the league two years ago, winning the Vezina Trophy with 48 wins and the best Goals Against Average (1.96). Price played in just 12 games last season due to injury.

Much like last season, the Canadiens dominated out of the gate and lead the Atlantic division and the league with 34 points. But Price’s injury and offensive collapse ruined Montreal’s season and the Habs spent the summer at home while their Friday-night opponents battled the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Stanley Cup.

The Sharks and Canadiens are numbers 1 and 3 in GAA, but Montreal ranks 15 spots ahead of the Sharks in goals scored per game.

San Jose’s defense, led by shutdown pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, will look to contain Montreal’s points leader Alex Galchenyuk, talented winger Alexander Radulov and the underperforming, but perennial scoring threat Max Pacioretty.

The division-leading Sharks’ offense obviously hasn’t held them back too much (San Jose leads the Pacific division by three points) but they will need to be a lot better if they hope to make another Stanley Cup run.

Heading into Friday’s game, center Joe Thornton is on pace to produce just 44 points this season. At his current rate, Thornton would end 2016-17 with his lowest point total since his sophomore season in 1998-99.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski was a nightmare for Montreal last season, leading the team in teal to victory in both games, scoring three goals with three assists. Burns and Thornton put up three points each in the second of the two games.

The Sharks can certainly challenge the Canadiens defensively, but they’ll obviously need some offense if they want to take home two points.

As CSN’s Brodie Brazil pointed out on Twitter on Nov. 30, the Sharks are the only team that hasn’t scored five goals in a game yet this season; and they are unlikely to break that streak against league’s top team.


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