Jeff Paterson: Big bad Burr
Not even the Vancouver Canucks want Alex Burrows to be on his very best behaviour. Part of what makes him the effective player he’s become and such a vital part of the Canucks offensive engine is his ability to play the game with an edge that sometimes attracts the attention of National Hockey League officials.
But better behaviour in the playoffs? Yeah, based on the fact that Burrows shared the league-lead in minor penalties this season, there is certainly some room for the 32-year-old to tidy things up now that the chase for the Stanley Cup has begun. With 27 separate trips to the penalty box this season, Burrows shared the minor penalty crown with Ottawa perennial bad boy Chris Neil. By comparison, Burrows took 35 minor penalties in 80 games the previous year. As anyone who’s watched him throughout his career knows, he’s no stranger to the penalty box. However, he nearly matched his penalty total from the prior year in just 47 games this time around.
Burrows knows his value to the Vancouver Canucks and he’s also well aware that he has to cut down on the penalties he takes. Not only do penalties put opponents on the power play which can be costly at this time of year, they also take Burrows – the Canucks leading goal-scorer this season– off the ice. But the impact of Burrows’ penchant for penalties runs much deeper than that. It also disrupts the flow of the team’s top line and any time Burrows spends in the penalty box is time that he and his linemates Daniel and Henrik Sedin aren’t together creating offense for the hockey club.
“Someone brought it to my attention the other day,” Burrows said of his league-leading status. “I wasn’t really surprised. I know I’ve taken a lot of penalties this year. Obviously I’d like to cut down on them and stay out of the box. But at the same time, sometimes when I feel like the twins are getting abused I like to get in there and I’ve got a few double minors on things like that. But it’s part of the game and I just have to make sure I’m smart about it and not spend so much time in there.”
As Burrows points out, there are times when he’ll take penalties sticking up for teammates. And the Canucks can live with those transgressions. Again, Burrows has made a living playing hard and not shying away from rough stuff. And that’s what has helped him develop into a dynamic player.
But as the playoffs begin, he also has to realize every time he steps on the ice that other teams know the Pincourt, Quebec native isn’t afraid of going to the penalty box. And opponents would be delighted to get Burrows off the ice as much as possible.
“I have to make sure I’m smarter – especially in the playoffs,” Burrows said. “Teams are going to try to get me off my game and I just have to be smart and let them go to the box.”
Burrows’ 27 penalties breakdown as follows: 10 roughing calls, four for slashing, three hooking minors, two each for high-sticking, tripping, holding and unsportsmanlike conduct along with single penalties for interference and cross-checking.
Again, the Canucks can live with the aggressive penalties especially when Burrows is able to take an opponent with him to the box. But with the playoffs about to start, Burrows has to be mindful of the avoidable stick fouls and must do everything in his power to stay on the right side of the officials.
While some might wonder if the league-leading minor penalty total is an indication that Alex Burrows is a marked-man in the eyes of NHL referees, Burrows doesn’t believe that to be the case.
“Not really,” he said. “I think it’s a tough job for the refs to make calls. Some calls are going to go your way. Some are going to go against you. But I believe the calls will even out at the end of the day.”
History has shown Alex Burrows to be an effective playoff performer so he’s excited about the opportunity to step on to the NHL’s biggest stage once again. But he has also learned over the years that there is only one way to slay a dragon – and it can’t be done in the penalty box.