Programming note: Capitals-Sharks coverage starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports
SAN JOSE – It’s become a routine for Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin. Just about every morning before practice officially gets underway, the 27-year-old defenseman can be seen skating at center ice, starting and stopping while concurrently passing pucks back and forth with assistant coach Jim Johnson.
Irwin is well aware of the primary facet of his game that he’ll have to be continually working on to remain in the NHL – his foot speed.
“It’s going to be something I’m always going to have to work on throughout my career,” Irwin said. “There’s been work with Jimmy a lot, doing things in the gym can help with that, and then it’s just getting confident in your feet. It allows you to get a good gap, and when you do that you can transition to offense a little easier and play less time in your d-zone.”
Todd McLellan said: “He’s had to work on that, and he’s done a good job of it. Jimmy Johnson does a lot of extra work with him on footwork. … I think we’re seeing signs of improvement, which is a really good thing for a player his age. To continue to show the improvement in those skills is excellent.”
Irwin is getting a chance now to play on a regular basis with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun out due to injury. He’s played the last nine games, his longest stretch of the season without watching from the press box.
He’s also found a way to contribute, with two goals and two assists in those nine games. Irwin has been a minus player just once over that span, and in fact was the Sharks’ only plus player in their 4-1 loss to the Flames on Monday.
As for his future with the Sharks, that’s still uncertain. It’s believed the Sharks were looking to move Irwin earlier in the year, but that’s becoming less likely now that the blue line is banged up. Irwin is a pending unrestricted free agent, and said that there have not been any talks about an extension with San Jose.
A bright, well-spoken individual, Irwin has no illusions about his uncertainty with the organization that signed him as free agent on March 23, 2010.
“Obviously, I’m playing for a job. I’m more concerned about getting in the lineup here and helping this team make the playoffs,” he said. “Whatever happens with contracts is for a later date. I’m not worried about that right now, I’m just worried about my game, and when I get opportunities to play, it’s to the best of my ability.”
Fortunately for Irwin there are signs of improvement, and they are coming at a key moment in the season.
“I’m happy with how things are going for myself. I’m feeling more confident. I’m trying to help the team win, and obviously with the injuries, that’s an opportunity for me to step in and play a little bit more.”