ST. LOUIS -- The experiment worked. The Sharks lost anyway.
Looking for a way to spark his team's sluggish offense, coach Todd McLellan turned defenseman Brent Burns into a forward Tuesday night in his first game back since suffering a leg injury more than two weeks ago. Burns scored and the Sharks fired more than 40 shots on net for only the third time this season, but none of that was enough to avoid a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
"Our job is to win games," McLellan said. "We didn't do that tonight, but I liked the effort, I liked the commitment level, I liked a lot of things about our game except for the score at the end of the night."
And he also liked what he saw from Burns -- a player McLellan helped convert to a defenseman eight years ago when he was coaching the Houston Aeros and Burns was a former first-round draft pick in the Minnesota Wild system.
"I saw what I expected from him, I've seen it before," the coach said. "He provided us an element of size, speed and a shot up front. He played the game -- I don't want to say with a reckless abandon, but he played using his body and attacked. I thought he provided our team a lot of energy."
Goals by Blues forwards Chris Stewart and David Perron put the Sharks in a 2-0 hole before the injury-plagued Burns scored his first of the season midway through the second period. That seemed to give the Sharks momentum, but Blues forward Chris Porter got the next goal with only
Dan Boyle narrowed the gap to 3-2 with a power-play goal in the third period, but Stewart got his second of the night into an empty net to seal it for St. Louis -- even thought the Blues were outshot 41-21 by San Jose.
The loss extended San Jose's latest losing streak to four games and, coupled with the Phoenix Coyotes' 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, dropped San Jose to ninth in the Western Conference. Still, even the more self-critical voices on the Sharks found positives in defeat.
"A good effort -- and I don't say that very often after a loss," Boyle said.
Burns, who missed training camp and the first 10 games of the season with an undisclosed injury that may have been related to offseason hernia surgery, had struggled in the six games he played before being hurt Feb. 23 in Dallas.
He began the game on a third line with Scott Gomez and James Sheppard, and it was Gomez who fed him the pass to the high slot that Burns managed to get past St. Louis rookie goalie Jake Allen.
"That was all him," Gomez said. "I saw him in the slot and threw it over to him. It just shows you what kind of shot he's got, the quickness."
After that goal, McLellan gave Burns regular shifts on a line with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture as well as power play time on the blue line. Altogether, Burns logged 18:21 ice time and was credited with three shots and two hits.
Though he scored from the high slot, Burns spent much of the game around the Blues net, showing good hands when he got off a backhand shot from in close that seemed to surprise Allen.
"If I play forward, that's what I've got to do," Burns said. "I've got to play around the net and get open for those guys, get them the puck and try to play tough in front of the net, cause some havoc. That'd be my game."
The Blues took a 1-0 lead when Stewart beat Antti Niemi far side after a 2-on-1 rush at 13:42 of the opening period. The Sharks fell further behind at 10:39 of the second period when a cross-crease pass caromed into the net off Perron's skate. Sixty-two seconds later, however, Burns cut the margin in half.
That goal seemed to inspire the Sharks, who applied more sustained offensive pressure than they have in weeks. Still, it was the Blues who got the late second-period goal when a rebound went straight to Porter and he restored St. Louis's two-goal lead.
McLellan faulted his team for being too puck-focused and his netminder for his role as well.
"It was a backhand from a bad angle that you'd like to see him direct it over into a corner rather than out to a prime scoring area," the coach said.
A holding penalty to Blues forward Scott Nichol and a call against defenseman Barret Jackman for boarding Couture gave San Jose a two-man advantage in the third period, and Boyle needed only four seconds to take a pass from Patrick Marleau and shoot it past Allen with 6:28 left in the game.
The Sharks long ago disavowed any moral victories but were hoping to get some carry-over from their latest loss.
"That was as good as we've been attacking in a long time against a very good defensive team," McLellan said. "I thought we were quicker, were stronger and outworked a team that prides itself on working real hard."
Los Angeles (14-9-2) at Sharks (11-8-6), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA
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