The San Jose Sharks are about as star-studded as the Avengers.
Obviously, Joe Pavelski is Captain America. Joe Thornton can be our eccentric billionaire Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. Brent Burns certainly has Thor’s tresses and trunk-like physique. Erik Karlsson as Captain Marvel? Logan Couture’s got a Hawkeye vibe, for sure.
The list goes on.
So what’s a teenager like Peter Parker doing on the Avengers’ top power play unit?
Quietly, that’s been one of Kevin Labanc’s greatest triumphs during this breakout campaign. On a team that features Pavelski, Thornton, Burns, Karlsson, Couture, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, among others, on the marquee, somehow, the 2014 sixth-round draft pick has remained a fixture on the Sharks’ first power play group.
It all came together for the 23-year-old in the third period of Game 7 against Vegas, when Labanc notched a goal and three assists, all on the same five minute major power play, to lead San Jose to a stunning comeback victory. It was also faith rewarded for Peter DeBoer, who called Labanc “elite on the power play” in February.
Anyway, in a display of Labanc’s “elite offensive brains,” he explained the subtle differences between Burns and Karlsson on the power play point.
For Labanc, who sets up at the right wall on the man-advantage, Burns is a more direct attacker: “Burnzie likes to have the puck and shoot it right away. You’re ready for that, and you’re moving down the flank, ready for a rebound to pop out.”
Karlsson, on the other hand, requires more reading: “Karl, he’s a little more patient with the puck. Got that kind of swagger, makes that first little move, then he gives it to you.
“He has that confidence with the puck to hold onto it; he’s not scared to make a play. You’re just timing it when he’s got the puck, trying to time it and get speed down the wall.”
The God of Thunder is back
Burns has certainly brought his hammer in this series, battering the Colorado Avalanche with seven points in just two contests. Much of the damage has been wrought at 5-on-5, where Burns has two goals and three assists.
Colorado’s hands-off defensive strategy is a big reason why Burns has dominated.
“Vegas was more 3-on-3 down there, [other Golden Knights] watching high,” Hertl indicated. “Colorado has all five guys down there, so we have more space to pass it to the D.”
This is underscored by this amazing stat, per Natural Stat Trick: Burns has more shot attempts at 5-on-5 in two games against the Avalanche (19) than he had in the entire seven-game series against the Golden Knights (18).
Nathan MacKinnon is more than just a terror at full speed.
In Colorado’s offensive zone, watch MacKinnon carefully: He’s not always where you expect a forward to be, down low and around the slot, digging or waiting for the puck. He’s often at the point or exiting and re-circling into the zone.
This camera angle isn’t a perfect depiction of this, but track MacKinnon, and you’ll find him off-camera, at the point or outside it, three times:
I asked trusted colleague Jonatan Lindquist if he was seeing what I was seeing, and he dubbed it, “Reverse Burns.”
In that clip, Timo Meier (28) certainly noticed, as he stood up MacKinnon’s final re-entry.
Of course, it hasn’t escaped Justin Braun’s notice either: “Patrick Kane’s really good at that. Get lost in the O-zone, then get a Grade-A scoring chance. [MacKinnon] tries to get lost up top, find that soft spot coming down. We’re aware of that.”
For MacKinnon, exiting and re-entering the zone allows him to build his speed back up. It’s a small area, but that speed down the slot, coupled with his shot, is unqualifiedly dangerous.
“We just have to pay attention, not get caught puck watching. See where he’s going,” Braun not“ed. “Usually, when the puck’s in the corner, the most dangerous guy is in front.”