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The Defensive Presence

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
With the game tied at one and a playoff atmosphere sweeping HP Pavilion, Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson sent out Joe Thornton, Douglas Murray and Sandis Ozolinsh to take the opening faceoff in overtime. Before the puck was dropped, Thornton was kicked out of the circle. Then in the most unlikely of scenarios, Douglas Murray stepped in. And won.

At the time, it felt like this was the beginning of a happy ending. The start of a come from behind victory over our intrastate rivals. But neither team could score in overtime and the Ducks closed out the Sharks in shootouts, 2-1.

Over the last five games Murray has stepped up to become a confident defensive presence; lining up against the oppositions top lines and finishing checks all over the ice. After compiling only 69 games over the past two seasons, the 27 year old defenseman has already racked up 14 starts this year along with the team’s highest plus/minus rating (+15). He is averaging more than 15 minutes a game over the past five games.

“I think I took some faceoffs in minors, but that was my first NHL faceoff,” said the 6-foot-3 defenseman of his overtime faceoff win. The Swedish defenseman has been playing his most confident hockey this season, most recently over the past five games.

“I’ve been around for three seasons now and I just try to step up, be consistent and contribute,” he added. “Confidence is a funny thing. You can’t put your finger on it. You always try to look for that edge and I have a really good routine right now.”

With Milan Michalek, Ryane Clowe, Rob Davison and Craig Rivet out with injuries, Murray is giving the Sharks strength and grit. But don’t call him a goon or an enforcer. His responsibilities and skill are much greater than that.

“The days of pure enforcers are pretty much over, you’ve got to be able to play,” explained Murray. “I know the last time I had a fighting major was quite a few games ago. I’ve always been a guy that had to control the physical play for our team and whenever I get a chance to get in guys faces, I do. It’s the physical presence I have to bring every night.”

Murray's growth has not gone unnoticed amongst his teammates.

“You can see the growth in his game,” said Craig Rivet. “He’s getting an opportunity to play and he’s getting better each game. Now he's working himself into the type of defenseman where he’s not fun to play against and he’s playing against team’s top line. And that’s a credit to his hard work and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”

This is the second time in eight days the Sharks have fallen to the Ducks in shootouts after sticking with Anaheim in a low scoring contest. When Nor Cal meets So Cal, it’s always a defensive battle.

“They’ve both been pretty close games,” said Ozolinsh following the overtime loss. “Both sides have outstanding goaltending.”

Ozolinsh, who had an assist on Torrey Mitchell’s game-tying goal in the third period, made an equally impressive play on defense just minutes later. When an Andy McDonald shot squeaked by Nabokov and was rolling towards the open goal, Ozolinsh made a diving effort to swat the puck off the goal line.

“I was almost behind the net,” Ozolinsh explained. “I’d rather not have to make that play, but I was very fortunate that it didn’t go in the net.”

Nabokov gave his defenseman praise for the effort.

“It was the save of the day probably,” added Nabokov with a smile.

For the second game in a row, 13-year NHL veteran Craig Rivet donned a suit and tie and stood behind the bench as a coach to his teammates. Rivet, who is listed as day-to-day with a leg injury, has no previous coaching experience, but received the coaching invite from Wilson in Phoenix.

"I was just siting out in Phoenix and the coach asked me if I wanted to go behind the bench with the coaches," he explained. "Obviously I took the opportunity. It's a chance for me to see a different aspect of the game and it's nice to see the game from a different side."

Although he is a novice to coaching, his perspective is refreshing.

“I try to help out and see things we’re trying to enforce as a group of defense back there,” said Rivet. “Sometimes it’s nice to hear it from a player instead of always the coach and they were really receptive to it.”

One player feeding off Rivet’s advice is fellow veteran Ozolinsh.

“I heard him once today,” said Ozolinsh. “I told him what I would like to hear during a game: my weaknesses and what I have to remember. I told him to remind me and he did.”

When asked about his previous coaching experience, Rivet laughed and replied, “No. I don’t have any previous coaching experience. I’ve been asked if I want to do that when I’m done, but that’s too far away. I just want to focus on playing hockey and we’ll see what happens in the future.”

The Sharks will host the Los Angeles Kings at HP Pavilion on Saturday, November 24 at 7:20 P.M. (Pacific). The game will be broadcast of FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX FM, Sharks Radio Affiliates and

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