MINNEAPOLIS – The timing isn’t ideal for Sharks defenseman Justin Braun’s return to his home state.
Braun, who was born in Minneapolis, has sat out the last two Sharks games and it will likely be a third when the Sharks take the ice for afternoon matinee against the Wild on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center (11 a.m. PST, CSN California).
“It’s not what you want, but hopefully I’ll be back here again and get to play in front of the home town,” said Braun, who played here twice in a Sharks uniform last season.
The 26-year-old was one of a number of Sharks players that underperformed in Los Angeles last Saturday in an ugly 5-2 loss. He finished with a -3 rating, turned the puck over in the first period numerous times, and let Dustin Penner race past him before Kyle Clifford finished off a rebound goal in the second.
The day after the loss, Todd McLellan said that deciding who to remove from the lineup was a challenge, because the “one or two guys that come out will think all the burden is on them, and it isn’t. It’s collective, and all 20 guys participated.”
Inserting Jason Demers for Braun on the blue line is the only change that’s remained constant since the Kings loss, though. The Sharks lost to Anaheim on Monday, 5-3, but fought back to beat the Oilers in a shootout on Wednesday, 4-3.
On Friday, McLellan said: “We didn’t think Brauny had a real good game in L.A., and I think he’d be the first to admit that. We got the opportunity to put J.D. back in, and we liked the way he played the last couple of games.”
That doesn’t mean Braun has fallen out of favor, though.
“When we look at players, we have to look at Brauny’s body of work. It’s been pretty good, and he had a little fall off, so we got another player going. Brauny will be fine when he gets back in,” McLellan said.
“You obviously don’t feel good after that [Los Angeles] game, but you’ve got to just stay positive,” Braun said. “If you’re out of the lineup, keep working hard. You can’t be like a wet blanket around the locker room, you’ve just got to keep working hard and supporting the guys.”
Conversely, Demers has yet to play in three straight games this season, regularly coming out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. In the last two games, Demers had a goal in Anaheim on Monday, his first point, and on Wednesday in Edmonton played a season high 21 minutes and 10 seconds. He’s been paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The 24-year-old missed the first six games while recovering from a broken wrist suffered while playing in Europe during the lockout. That didn’t help him out of the gate.
“I played overseas, but to jump back after guys already got 10 games into the season was a transition,” Demers said. “But, we did a great job rehabbing it and healing it. Just finding the rhythm and getting it back is the tough part. I’m feeling better every game, though.”
It’s an important season for Demers, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s pleased that his game finally seems to be moving in the right direction again.
“It’s the game I’ve wanted to play since the end of last year, and what I was aiming for. I’m happy with those two games, and getting that goal was a monkey off the back, and I can breathe easy,” he said. “Since then, I’ve felt good and felt like I’m making plays. Just trying to play my game, and not worry too much about stuff I can’t control.”
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One player who appears to be safe in terms of staying in the active lineup is Douglas Murray. The 32-year-old free-agent-to-be has played in every game but one this season.
Although Murray isn’t the most mobile of defensemen, it’s worth noting that when opposing team’s players discuss the Sharks, Murray’s name is among the most frequently mentioned with the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle.
In other words, opponents are aware when Murray is on the ice. There’s something to be said for that.
McLellan said: “Teams know when he plays. We know when he plays. Is he the fastest player? No, he never will be. But, he’s physical, good on the penalty kill, he blocks shots, his commitment level is very high in the game. He’s willing to step in and get involved in extracurricular [activity], so there’s a lot of elements that be brings.
“We always talk about ingredients, and when you look at our D, he’s separated himself from some of the other guys because of what he brings. It’s nice to have those elements and ingredients available.”