SAN JOSE — Justin Braun has developed into one of the Sharks top shutdown defensemen, so it wasn't as if he had been fixating on the 86-game goal drought that ended in San Jose's 4-1 opening night victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
But, yes, there was a sense of relief.
"It was good to get that out of the way early. I didn't want to go another 20, 30, 40 games to get that off my back," the 26-year-old defenseman said Saturday. "It's nice to get that, and help the team win."
The goal ended up being the game winner, and if more come, that's fine. But Braun has had other priorities.
"I just wanted to play good defense and shut guys down," he said. "That's what I want to continue to do. If goals keep coming, they'll keep coming, but strong defense first."
Braun had surgery during the off-season to repair a hand injury suffered when he played in Finland during the lockout. He played down the impact that had on his ability to shoot the puck last season, but Coach Todd McLellan thought there was an effect.
"Last year he had great legs and was really well positioned," McLellan said. "But there were moments when the puck and stick didn't agree all the time. . . . I think that part of his game is getting better, the ability to get the shot through and not blocked, crisper cleaner passes coming out of our end."
Braun has come a long way after being drafted 201st overall in 2001, then spending four years at UMass-Amherst. Paired last season with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the two became the blue-liners McLellan relied on most heavily to shut down the top opposing scorers.
"He's grown so much," Vlasic said. "He's strong, he plays hard, he's a fast skater, he's getting shots through. The poise with the puck as well -- not saying he didn't have it at the beginning, but the evolution, the growth has been there and I see it now."
Braun credits hall-of-fame defenseman Larry Robinson's presence as an associate coach for some of that growth.
How has Larry helped?
"He's a great guy to have on the bench," Braun said. "He's not going to come down on you too hard, he's going to work with you. You're not intimidated to go talk to him. It's a good relationship I think he has with all the D."
In his case, Braun said, Robinson improved his on-ice posture.
"Just getting my chest up when I get the puck," Braun said, "so I have more vision."