Two games and seven points ago, Brent Burns was dominating the series at both ends of the ice.
But after pointless Games 3 and 4 — Burns also had just nine shot attempts at 5-on-5 in Denver, as opposed to 19 in San Jose — the Colorado Avalanche may have made some adjustments on the San Jose Sharks superstar.
Before Game 3, Tomas Hertl noted, “Vegas was more 3-on-3 down there, [other Golden Knights] watching high. Colorado has all five guys down there, so we have more space to pass it to the D...Make some plays for Burnzie, he’s shooting the puck, he’s on fire.”
Here’s an example of what Hertl was talking about, from Game 2:
Burns (88) was standing at the right point. Notice all five Avs, including winger Mikko Rantanen (96), who’s assigned to Burns, below the tops of the circles.
After Hertl’s (48) pass back to the point, Rantanen closed on Burns. But that small window was large enough for Burns to get it on net for an Evander Kane (9) putback.
Colorado looks to be working harder to close this window on Burns. This is from Game 4:
A probing Gustav Nyquist (14) has the puck at the dot, but only four Avs are down low. Conspicuously, Nathan MacKinnon (29) won’t go below the top of the circle. Instead, MacKinnon turned his head not once, not twice, but three times to mark Burns.
“We’ve tried to get in his face a little bit more before he gets the puck,” Alexander Kerfoot admitted. “Press up on him a little bit. Just know where he is on the ice.”
Jared Bednar agreed: “We did a better job denying him the puck a few times in the offensive zone.”
But it wasn’t just about keeping the puck away from Burns.
Matt Nieto said of San Jose, “When they’re successful, they’re getting pucks low to high, getting shots to the net with guys crashing for tips.”
That, of course, is where you miss Joe Pavelski. But the Sharks still have plenty of forwards who can crash the net, so credit to the Avalanche.
“In the last game, we also kept guys off the front of the net a little better too,” Bednar pointed out. “So when he was shooting, we were able to let Grubauer see it without guys cutting in front for screens and tips.”
Nieto added, “You can’t just have a guy sitting on him. It’s also about boxing the guys out in front of the net, tying up sticks.”
Here’s a good example of it, in a rare moment of freedom for Burns in Game 4:
Watch the front: Ian Cole (28) boxed out Nyquist, while J.T. Compher (37) recognized Logan Couture (39) off to the side. Cole, in particular, denied Nyquist a juicy rebound.
“You add all that up, he became a little less dangerous,” said Bednar. “He’s an elite player, you just want to limit his chances as much as you can. You’re never going to take all of them away.”