PHILADELPHIA — Sharks defense partners Brent Burns and Paul Martin have a pretty special relationship. One of a kind, perhaps.
“We just have a great marriage, I think. He’s a great partner,” Burns said of Martin. “We don’t fight. He puts the toilet seat down. It’s nice.”
Burns is enjoying his best season as a professional with a league-leading 24 goals for a defenseman and 59 points, which is fourth in the NHL behind forward Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Nicklas Backstrom going into Monday’s games.
Burns is quick to credit his coaches and teammates for his success, which could result in a Norris Trophy at the end of the season for being the NHL’s best defenseman.
Few have been as important as Martin, whose more conservative on-ice style and even-keeled disposition offer an ideal balance to his playmaking, high-profile partner.
“The game is so fast and so hard, he reads the plays so well,” Burns said. “I go off the page a little bit and he reads it early and closes it down. I think that’s one of his greatest strengths is the way he reads plays and sees what’s happening.”
It’s something that Martin takes pride in, as his play gives Burns a bit more freedom to generate offense in the opposing team’s zone.
“I don’t talk about it. It’s one of those things where I let him do his thing,” Martin said. “I know how many points he has and where he’s at, but I don’t like to bring it up. He’s just kind of in his zone, doing his thing.
“I try to give him the puck when he’s in a position to do something with it.”
Martin said when he sees Burns relying on one thing too much, he’ll suggest an alternative. When the Sharks played the Buffalo Sabres last week for instance, Burns and Martin switched sides on one even strength sequence, with Martin on the right and Burns on the left.
After a forecheck, the puck came back to Martin on the right side just inside the blue line. He passed over to Burns, who had some space for a one-timer that Joel Ward redirected in front of the net past goalie Anders Nilsson to tie the game 1-1.
“You don’t see him over there too often,” Martin said of Burns’ positioning. “I think it’s good to show other teams a different look, too, sometimes. They hone in on his shooting and what he’s trying to do.
“But he’s just so good and getting the puck through and finding lanes, no matter where he is.”
Martin himself is having some offensive success. Healthy except for one game this season, his 17 points in 54 games is just three points off what he did in 78 games last year.
“He’s been huge for me,” Burns said. “He’s a lot of fun to play with, talking with him on the bench, off the ice. On the ice, he’s helped tremendously. It’s huge for a d-partner to have that guy you can lean on.”
Just as a matter of perspective, Burns has more goals so far this season than the six defensemen the Philadelphia Flyers are projected to dress against the Sharks on Saturday and the New Jersey Devils will likely play Sunday.
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