Brent Burns

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Brent Burns and Ryan Johansen are still searching for their first goals

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Over the past two seasons Brent Burns held a commanding lead over every other defenseman in the league when it came to scoring goals.

His 56 goals during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons were 19 more than the next closest defenseman, Shea Weber, during that stretch.

The gap between him and Weber was as large as the gap between Weber and the No. 25 defenseman, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. He has been such a dominant player offensively that he was also the seventh-leading scorer in the league regardless of position. He has produced goals and points like an elite forward and doing so as a defenseman. Other than Erik Karlsson there is not another defenseman in the league that is capable of that.

His dominance the past couple of seasons is what makes it so shocking that nearly a quarter of the way through the season he has yet to find the back of the net for the San Jose Sharks despite putting 65 shots on goal. Only eight players in the league have more shots on goal. He finished in the top-two in each of the past two seasons.

Given the standard Burns has set for himself over the past few years, as well as the fact he is still averaging more than four shots on goal per game (an absurd number for a defenseman) this drought to open the season seems to be nothing more than a cold streak due to some poor shooting luck. Burns is typically around a seven to eight percent shooter, which should have him at about five goals at this point given the number of shots on goal. In each of the past three seasons he had at least five goals at this point in the season.

Given the shot volume and his willingness to keep putting pucks on the net, as well as the fact he still has a 54 percent Corsi rating, it seems quite likely that he is probably on the verge of an offensive breakout.

Burns is not the only top player in the league still searching for his first goal at this point.

Down in Nashville, where the Predators are starting to get on a roll with wins in five consecutive games, top-line center Ryan Johansen is heading into game 18 this season without a goal.

Johansen’s goal drought is a little different than Burns’ at this point.

While Burns seems to be more about some percentage driven bad luck, Johansen simply is not giving himself many opportunities to score goals.

As of Wednesday Johansen has registered just 23 shots on goal in his first 17 games. Among forwards that have played at least 300 minutes of hockey this season only one (Valtteri Filppula) has recorded fewer shots on goal than Johansen.

Part of the lack of shots is the fact he has spent a large portion of the season playing alongside Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, two of the Predators’ best goal scorers and most willing shooters, resulting in Johansen taking on more of a playmaking role.

But he could also probably stand to be a little more selfish in some situations as he himself admitted this week to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

“Sometimes shooting the puck creates more opportunities for the guys on my wing and creating more opportunities to score goals,” said Johansen, who has 22 goals since being traded to Nashville nearly two years ago. “I think sometimes, especially at the start of this year, I’ve been a little too passive.

“I need to find ways to bring pucks to the net more often, which will lead to more opportunities for my wingers and more rebounds and chances and things like that.”

Overall his line is playing really well. They dominate possession, the other two guys are scoring goals, and the Predators as a team are starting to find success. After the addition of Kyle Turris and the return of Nick Bonino to the lineup they now have one of the best center trios in the Western Conference.

Still, with Johansen carrying around an $8 million per year price tag the Predators would probably like to see a little more goal production — and pucks at the net — from Johansen.

It is not like he doesn’t possess natural goal scoring ability, either. This is a guy that score 33 goals in the NHL as a 21-year-old then followed it up in his age 22 season with 26 more. When he was doing that he was averaging more more than 2.6 shots on goal per game. He is now barely averaging more than one shot per game. He can be that sort of goal scorer again, but not until he starts taking a few more shots when the opportunities present themselves.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning at San Jose Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning don’t meet often enough to really build a hateful rivalry, but each teams boast collections of talent that should make Wednesday’s meeting a lot of fun.

The Lightning come in with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos riding high as possibly the hottest one-two punch in the NHL. Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and the Sharks bring plenty of starpower to the table in their own right.

Tampa Bay won’t sneak up on anyone with its 11-2-2 record, including a 6-1-1 mark in the past eight games. The Sharks are heating up in their own right, bringing a four-game winning streak (as well as victories in five of six) into this one.

You can watch the game on NBCSN, online, and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

For a detailed preview, read this.

An ode to Burns, Byfuglien, dual positions (Fantasy Thursday)

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The year 2016 was, by most measures, pretty kind to Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien.

Most obviously, both high-scoring, oddball defensemen inked contracts that provide them with long-term security. In February 2016, Byfuglien killed trade rumors with a five-year, $38 million extension. Burns went even bigger in November of that same year, landing an eight-year, $64M pact.

Instead, 2016 was a sad moment in a far more esoteric way with Burns and Byfuglien: fantasy hockey leagues no longer gave them the bizarre, not-particularly-functional, but totally awesome dual position designation of D/RW.

Yes, in case you forgot or didn’t pay attention to fantasy then, Byfuglien and Burns could slot in as right-wingers and defensemen not that long ago.

Rotoworld goes deep on Brent Burns’ scoring struggles

Now, this designation wasn’t that useful, at least beyond Byfuglien and Burns being stat-category-stuffing monsters. Generally speaking, you probably won’t run into many fantasy situations where you have more defensemen than “D” spots to fill, while not having the same problem at RW.

Granted, it’s plausible, just not a consistent concern.

More than anything else, it was just fun that the two All-Stars could be used in such ways. It’s also a reminder that the two aren’t that far removed from debates about how they should be deployed. Think about this: Brent Burns, eventual Norris Trophy-winner, was quite reasonably depicted as a guy who might have been better suited as a forward.

To an extent, these two might feel like they stepped out of time machines from the future. Hockey is a flowing game where forwards can act as defensemen and vice versa; it’s easy to picture mad science where positions become irrelevant in favor of five skaters with increasingly similar job descriptions.

(OK, maybe that future isn’t too near, but who knows?)

It’s possible that the Jets are concerned about Byfuglien considering his size and style; just recently Tyler Dellow brought up tough questions about Buffy’s defensive work for The Athletic (subscription required). At 32, Burns’ contract could become a hairy problem if the Sharks start to hit the wall with an aging core.

Fantasy owners might argue that both defensemen deserve every penny, even if it’s for past work. Part of that is because they’re both so good and so unusual. Part of that is because some of us frequently smile at the thought of those weird D/RW days.

Speaking of dual positions …

With this being a weekly column, certain bits of advice will evolve over time, while others might be a little more reliable. (The debut column is likely to remain static, as you should always be honest with yourself about how much effort you’re expecting to put into a given league).

The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast

One evolving question: how much of a difference does it make to have a roster heavy on dual position options?

Many of us go into drafts assuming that we’ll load up on LW/RW guys, only to stray in the heat of the moment, when the few difference-making goalies keep drying up (or other concerns). It’s also conceivable that you can trick yourself into taking the wrong guy while being enticed by the siren call of those multiple positions.

Ideally, there are an array of strategies that open up with a well-tuned gameplan.

Maybe you can justify taking goalies earlier – but getting one of the handful of more reliable netminders – because of such moves? Perhaps you can grab that Erik Karlsson or, yes, Burns because of your situation? At minimum, the glut of centers might turn into an advantage if you can grab undervalued ones later in drafts instead of scrambling to cover tougher-to-settle wing spots.

Full disclosure: I’m not certain how much of a difference this makes, but I’ve always been curious. With that in mind, share your own tales, whether you prefer Twitter, email or the comments.

You never know, we might just win some fantasy duels together with the right dual-position players.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks

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With Philadelphia Flyers at Chicago Blackhawks winding down (stream here), NBCSN’s doubleheader closes out with an interesting test as the Nashville Predators visit the San Jose Sharks.

The Western Conference’s last two Stanley Cup Final representatives are off to up-and-down starts to 2017-18, so they’ll both want to get things going at their opponents’ expense. There should be plenty of fun players to watch, too, from Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban taking on Brent Burns and Joe Thornton, among many other key actors.

Along with tuning in on NBCSN, you can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Also, for a preview of this game, check out this post.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins’ defense is hurting heading into a scary stretch

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Of all the storylines that surrounded the Pittsburgh Penguins repeating as champions last season, it might have been lost on most just how resurgent Justin Schultz has been since joining Pittsburgh.

It’s easy to forget that he was a legit reclamation project when the Penguins picked him up in a low-risk trade. The returns were nice almost from the get-go, but even then, consider this: Schultz generated an impressive 51 points in 2016-17.

For some perspective, that tied Torey Krug for the seventh-best output among NHL defensemen, and he was right up there with every blueliner outside of the Norris Trophy finalists, a group of guys who may secretly be aliens in Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Victor Hedman.

(Those three are almost suspiciously good. Just saying, gang.)

Anyway, with all the justifiable “Penguins won a Cup even with Kris Letang out” comments, it was often lost just how big a role Schultz played, not to mention that such a group was pretty beaten-down even among guys who managed to suit up.

So, the good news is that the Penguins have grown accustomed to dealing with injuries. It’s been something they’ve had to roll with well before Mike Sullivan let them unleash their speed and skill in delightful ways.

On the other hand, this season will provide a real test of the effects of attrition; just because you pushed that boulder up the hill many times doesn’t mean you’ll do it every time.

Schultz was placed on IR today due to a concussion, and with Matt Hunwick also day-to-day, this group is looking a little thin on the blueline. As refreshing as it is to see former Toronto Maple Leafs fans debate topic Frank Corrado back in the NHL, the Penguins would likely not prefer this route. It’s probably worth noting that guys like Ian Cole might be feeling a little extra sore, too.

Speaking of routes, the Penguins must brave a threatening set of pot holes starting this weekend. Take a gander at a foreboding schedule that might make them miss supporting cast characters such as Schultz:

Thu, Oct 26 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 28 @ Minnesota
Sun, Oct 29 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Nov 1 @ Edmonton
Thu, Nov 2 @ Calgary
Sat, Nov 4 @ Vancouver
Tue, Nov 7 vs Arizona
Fri, Nov 10 @ Washington
Sat, Nov 11 @ Nashville

So, the Penguins begin at home tonight, but the Jets aren’t exactly the squad you’d pencil in an automatic W against. (Aside: you never know when offenses will go cold for a night, but on paper that seems as fun to watch as it will be threatening for both defenses, eh?)

As you can see, the weekend begins a run where they’ll face five road games in a row and seven of eight away from home. There’s at least a break between this weekend’s back-to-back and the following three-game set, but that’s still three back-to-backs between today and Nov. 11. That last back-to-back also features the teams that are licking their chops the most for revenge against the Penguins in the Capitals and Predators.

They probably won’t take it easy on that road-weary crew, then.

Now, this isn’t to say that the 6-3-1 defending champs are just going to crater. Still, this might be one of those times where they wobble a bit (picture them suffering in the winter like those surreal moments in “March of the Penguins”), so Penguins fans shouldn’t get too upset if there’s a lull in the making.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.