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THN.com Blog: Unheralded Sharks will be playoff key

Douglas Murray doesn't show up on the Sharks scoresheet often, but he's been a big part of their success this season. (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Douglas Murray doesn't show up on the Sharks scoresheet often, but he's been a big part of their success this season. (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sure they have a great amount of star power, but the San Jose Sharks have some other interesting pieces that will be integral to a playoff run.

Douglas Murray is a tank. He reminds me of Willie Mitchell – though with a little more “umph” on the physical side and a little less discipline on the mental side – before Mitchell got his full kudos.

How important is he in San Jose’s stacked lineup? Murray averages just less than 20 minutes of ice time per game and is the physical presence from the blueline on a team criticized for being too soft in the spring (Murray has 98 more hits than the next defenseman on the Sharks).

And how about Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol? The two depth centers on the Sharks are 1-2 among regular centers on the team in faceoff percentage, both average more than 2:00 of shorthanded time per game and each bring their own extra flavor to the mix. While Nichol stars at the physical aspect (second on the team in hits), Malhotra brings speed and leads the team in shots.

In Monday night’s 9-1 drubbing of the Calgary Flames, No. 2 center Joe Pavelski opened the scoring, but Malhotra and Nichol scored the next two and got points on three of the four goals after that to bury the Flames.

Not bad for two free agent signings (Nichol in the summer, Malhotra in the fall after a tryout offer) who each make no more than $750,000. No doubt San Jose has the engines, but the Sharks need their grunts to keep shovelling coal into the fire come post-season.

• The very next game after the Stephane Auger-Alex Burrows incident, in which the frustrated grievances aired by a noted antagonist were inexplicably taken as gospel, the Canucks winger gave one of the Wild skaters a little jolt to the mid-section with his stick as the final buzzer sounded. The Canucks lost 5-2, so much like the Nashville game Burrows must have been upset again.

This didn’t get much attention because it’s just Burrows being Burrows – plus there were two fights to make a big deal over – and he didn’t cross any lines that injured anyone. But cheap little plays like those are why Burrows won’t and doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t make him a target of referees, but with his reputation of embellishing hits, I can completely understand the diving call Auger made in the Nashville game.

I can’t understand the interference call that was the difference in the game, but big whoop, people always complain about referees making bad calls at inopportune times. It happens. Kill off the penalty and deal with it. And if you’re one of those guys who walks the line like Burrows, hey, I love that style of play, but it comes back on you at some point and you can’t whine about it when it does.

• Patrice Cormier’s elbow was nightmarish. After his third transgression through a couple pre-WJC exhibition games I was adamant Cormier be stripped of the ‘C’ for Team Canada; not benched, not removed from the team or any other consequence, just have the captaincy removed.

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His latest elbow was dastardly and I’d be perfectly content with a suspension just like the one Michael Liambas received for his hit. Of course, while it was a direct hit to the head, the “elbowing” infraction is already in the rulebook (and Zack Kassian’s hit was a clear-cut charge), so anyone who uses either hit as a pedestal to shout for a new head-shot rule is simplifying the problem and pushing an agenda.

I won’t go into great detail as there’s another blog on this subject today, but it’s easy: suspend these hits with great force and guys will think twice in the future. The game doesn’t have to be gutted in a classic sensationalized overreaction from the other side.

Go ahead and call me a dinosaur or a caveman if you really think that strengthens your point.

• If you haven’t seen a Vancouver Canucks game yet this year, make an effort to kick back and take one in before the end of the season.

They have one of the world’s best goalies, the NHL’s top scorer and his twin, and a good cast of tough and exciting forwards, but that’s not why you have to see them. You have to see them because Mason Raymond is one of the most exciting players I’ve watched this year.

He’s having a breakout offensive season and a big reason for that is because he’s driving to the net an awful lot. His frame is solid, his shot is lethal, his hockey sense is impeccable and – the first thing you’ll notice about him – his speed is flashy.

And as fun as it is to watch him carry the puck down the ice, carve to the middle and use his body strength to create a chance for himself or his linemates, the 24-year-old backchecks with ferocity and deters chances as much as he directs them.

Trust me, you’ll be satisfied with your time investment.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his feature, A Ref's Life, appears every other Thursday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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