SAN JOSE – Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray survived round one of the numbers crunch on the team’s blue line, suiting up for the 2-1 shootout loss against Nashville on Saturday while rookie Matt Irwin was relegated to the press box.
Jason Demers’ return from a fractured wrist meant someone had to come out of the lineup, and Irwin’s removal didn’t sit too well with the Twitter-verse. Murray skated almost 16 minutes against the Predators, and played a key role killing off a hooking penalty to Marty Havlat in overtime, giving the Sharks at least the opportunity to get the extra point in the shootout.
“Very important,” Todd McLellan said of Murray’s role on the penalty kill. “You can see the dynamic that he plays in those situations. Our penalty kill has been successful lately, and he plays a big role in it. But, it’s not about the one, it’s about the four – or last night in overtime, the three, in that case.”
Murray trails only Brad Stuart in shorthanded ice time per game, at 3:23. The Sharks have killed off 21 straight opponent power plays, and to say that unit is improved from last season is a tremendous understatement. The 32-year-old Swede is second on the Sharks in blocked shots with 15 (Stuart has 16), including one in overtime on Saturday on Preds defenseman Matt Ellis, after which Murray limped off of the ice.
Murray likes the Sharks’ aggressive new approach to the PK.
“I think we’re gaining confidence in it. I like how we’re more aggressive. In order to be aggressive you’ve got to be confident, too, that everybody does their job. Everyone to the man is doing their part. The most dangerous thing is when you start hesitating yourself, you’re not doing your team or anybody else a favor. It’s something that can creep into you when other things don’t get covered, but everybody’s been doing a great job with it.”
The Sharks’ penalty kill has risen to sixth in the league at 85.7 percent. Last season the Sharks were 29th in the league with a 76.9 percent kill rate, better only than the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I have the exact same mentality this year as I had last year,” Murray said. “You obviously might be a little more confident right now. We’ve been doing a good job with it, but the mentality hasn’t changed from my first game in the league until now.”
“I wouldn’t say we dreaded it all last year. But, it was frustrating, that’s for sure.”
Last season, Murray was third on the team in average ice time shorthanded. He knows his play on the PK will go a long way in terms of keeping him from getting pushed from the lineup.
“I know for me to be an important piece to this team, I’ve got to kill penalties,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of reach, and a big body to block shots and box guys out. That’s nothing new to this year. It feels a little bit better this year now, when we’re starting to get it back to where we want the penalty kill to be.”