MONTREAL – The Canadiens went in search of additional tenacity during the offseason, and they've clearly found it in defenseman Douglas Murray.
Sidelined for the first 11 games of the regular season due to injury, the 33-year-old rearguard has already announced his arrival just two games into his tenure with the bleu-blanc-rouge
. On Tuesday, Murray played an instrumental role in pacing the Canadiens to their second win in as many nights – a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars at the Bell Centre – on the strength of goals from Michael Bournival and Rene Bourque, a 26-save effort from Carey Price and relentless team defense.
Accounting for a team-high six of the Habs’ 22 hits and three of their 29 blocked shots against the Stars, Murray has quickly done what he can to help fill the void left by Alexei Emelin’s extended absence on the back end.
“It was a good game. It was hard for me to play two games in two days when I came back, but it was good for us to score the first goal and pick up the win,” affirmed the eight-year NHL veteran, who logged 12 minutes of ice time over the course of 17 shifts on Tuesday night after making his regular season debut 24 hours earlier in New York. “During the last two games, it was important to get the feel of the game back. We played well defensively as a team. Whether it was in terms of blocking shots or being in good position, we had a good team effort.”
After Peter Budaj saw first-hand what Murray could bring to the Canadiens’ defense corps against the Rangers, it was Price’s turn to witness what the towering 6-foot-3, 240-pound defender could deliver against a Stars contingent that boasted multiple offensive threats. It didn’t take long for the Anahim Lake, BC native to see that the former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin boasts intangibles needed to win close hockey games. Factoring in on a play that denied Stars forward Cody Eakin the opportunity to tie the game with 40 seconds remaining in regulation time, Murray has been steadily earning the trust of the netminders he's out to protect.
“He’s a really big boy. He’s solid out there. He’s been laying the body on guys. That’s what we need him to do, play physical. He looks great for missing so much time to start the year,” praised Price, referencing the fact that Murray hasn’t been worse for wear since returning to active duty. “When I have that kind of confidence in our defensemen like that and all I have to do is worry about making that first save, it makes it a lot easier for me. It’s not an easy position to jump in to, playing your first two games in two days."
And yet the Bromma, Sweden native, who spent seven-plus seasons with the Sharks to start his career, managed to do just that. Murray's ability to integrate himself into the Canadiens’ fold fast wasn’t lost on head coach Michel Therrien in the aftermath of his troops’ eighth win of the season, one that moved them to within two points of the Eastern conference leading Maple Leafs.
“[Murray's] of primordial importance. He’s a player that’s really difficult to play against. He’s especially physical in the corners and in front of the net. If he has a chance to punish the opponent, he’s going to do it,” acknowledged Therrien, who admits to monitoring the Cornell University product's ice time in order to steadily re-introduce him into full-time playing mode. “He didn’t have a chance to take part in training camp, but he has compensated for it with his experience. He’s so strong. He played a game within his own limits [against Dallas] and he did well.
"With big guys like that, if you only give them eight or nine minutes, it’s hard to get their motor warmed up. They need to feel involved," added the Habs bench boss, whose squad has blocked 57 total shots in their last two outings combined and continues to do their utmost to deny the opposition time and space at every opportunity.
The former eighth-round selection, who ranked fourth in the league among defensemen with 233 hits in 2009-10 and seventh in that same category one year later, believes that adapting so seamlessly to the system he now finds himself in is a by-product of maturation and personal growth.
“When I was younger, I tried to get the most hits possible. Now, I try to be physical. When the opportunity is there, I take it,” confided Murray, who represented Sweden at the 2010 Winter Olympics. “When I start to get interested in the number of hits that I give out, that’s when I get into trouble and I get out of position. Going up against the best players from other teams and being out there when the game is on the line is what makes the game more fun for me.”
Rarely, if ever out of position on Tuesday night, the hard-hitting defenseman has swiftly injected more energy into a Canadiens team that continues to be trending in the right direction with a challenging two-game road trip to Minnesota and Colorado on the horizon later this week.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game – October 29, 2013