Sharks Gameday: Struggling defense gets tested further with Murray out



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Although I would have loved to title this pregame with a pun or witty quip, I couldn't decide between "In the Nick of Time", "Nick could stick" and "Nick-Nack-Petreckiwack give a dog a bone. This young defenseman came rolling home"

Probably the third one. Not only could I not decide, but none of them would make any sense; none have anything to do with who the Sharks actually called up from Worcester.

As was reported yesterday, the Sharks called up Justin Braun with Douglas Murray a game-time decision resulting from a hand injury sustained in the loss to Florida on Saturday night. As a whole, the defense has been struggling mightily, and Murray has been one of the main culprits. Murray's CORSI number (shots directed at net for-shots directed at nets against) is second worst on the team (-25.3), while his partner Dan Boyle isn't faring too well either (-11.8). Even still, a team never wants to lose one of their top-four on the blueline, and that's what the Sharks may be facing right now.

Justin Braun could help, his 8.1 CORSI with San Jose is third on the club behind the solid Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who are having a breakout year as one of the league's best young defensive pairings (Burns has a 36.2 CORSI, which practically makes him a deity on ice skates, while Vlasic is at 19.4, a demigod-esque total ). But while Braun could help, it's possible that another Worcester prospect could contribute in a more glaring area of need.

With Murray out, you run into the problem of losing the physical edge that he brings to the table. Braun, while known to apply the body from time to time, is far from a physical threat. In addition, Jason Demers is likely to stick in the lineup (for better or worse), leaving some strange pairings. Do you sit Demers, and start White AND Vandermeer (who haven't been solid either) with Braun, or do you bench one of those players and play Braun and Demers together? It's a tough call, and no option is ideal. As it stands, Burns and Vlasic will already be split, a peek at how dysfunctional the defense is at this moment.

That's where Nick Petrecki comes in. Petrecki is sort of a forgotten prospect; after stumbling in his first AHL season, the former first round pick fell off the radar of many, replaced by Demers, Braun, Irwin and others on the Sharks defensive depth chart. Petrecki, though, has been working his way back into the eyes of his coaches, a journey that he talked about last year in an interview with Jason Plank and me.

"You know what, I don't want to play in the American Hockey League," said a confident Petrecki two summers ago. "I want to move up. Obviously, there may be some room [in San Jose]. I've been motivated all summer to get bigger, stronger, to be more consistent. It's really up to me. It's not up to other people to motivate me or tell me that I have to do this or that. I've been given the tools and I've been given the direction of where to go. It's up to me but like I said there's an opportunity there to jump in and compete for it."

Petrecki has succeed a bit in his endeavor to reach the NHL level, as Todd McLellan mentioned him in an interview with Kevin Kurz yesterday as a call-up possibility. While Petrecki may not have cracked the lineup this time, it's looking like he could sometime in the future.

The Sharks still have time to work with Petrecki, who despite being in the system for seemingly an eternity, is still just 22 years old. Defensemen usually have a longer development path than forwards do, and Petrecki has plenty of time to continue to develop. There shouldn't be any rush to force him into NHL time, that is.

Unless the team needs him. And I would propose that at this moment, they do. The defense has had little chemistry outside of Burns and Vlasic, and while Braun has been decent, he hasn't been lighting the world on fire. Petrecki would bring a strong, physical, defensively minded player into the fold... something the team will miss with Murray out. Even when Murray returns, there's no reason that Petrecki could not motivate the other so-called "shut-down" defensemen, White and Vandermeer, into more consistent play.

Just a thought.

And oh yeah, the Sharks are playing Minnesota tonight, who leads the NHL in points with 37. Chew on that one for a minute.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-0. Justin Braun scores 4 goals and makes 4 diving saves and is never sent down to the AHL ever again.