SAN JOSE If theres been one benefit to the Sharks missing two defensemen with broken hands, as they are with Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer, its that it has allowed Colin White to settle in and play his best hockey of the season.
At least, thats how coach Todd McLellan recently categorized Whites play.
Sometimes, somebodys misfortune is somebody elses good fortune, and when both Vandermeer and Murray went down with injuries, it allowed him to get in a groove and play. I know he feels better about himself, and that pair. We feel really good about putting him in, in important situations.
Its like anything, its new and its getting used to different partners and systems. Just fitting in, said White, after Thursdays practice at Sharks Ice.
Prior to the injuries to Murray and Vandermeer in early December, McLellan was doing everything he could to keep his eight healthy defensemen fresh. If White and partner Justin Braun had a good game, that didnt necessarily mean they would be in the next night. Several times this season, the Sharks coach swapped out an entirely new third defense pair regardless of if the team had won its previous game.
White has played in the last seven Sharks games, his longest streak of the season in the lineup, and has been an even or plus player in 13 of his last 14 games overall.
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He knew he was going to be in every night, and he got into a rhythm and started to play really well, said McLellan. Without the injuries, do we put him in every night when were juggling eight? I dont know. Now, hes really settled in and hes done a good job.
As a professional and an athlete, you want to be in. Everybody does, said White. There are guys in the minors that want to be up here, and theres pressure every day to be your best.
Like any player on a new team, it took White some time to get adjusted to the Sharks after he was signed by the club following a buy-out by the New Jersey Devils. White spent the first 11 seasons of his NHL career with the Devils, and after his services were no longer wanted in New Jersey, signed a one-year, 1 million contract with San Jose this summer.
The middle of the summer rolled around and he was still a Devil, and all of a sudden his world changed. It really changed, said McLellan. Hes not waking up around his kids every day, and there are lots of adjustments to his world.
Braun, too, has been thriving since he was recalled from Worcester for the second time this season at the beginning of the month. Hes played more than 20 minutes in three of the last five games, something he hadnt done at all in his first 13 games with the Sharks.
He enjoys playing with the veteran White.
Hes seen it all, won Cups, and its calming, said Braun. You dont get too riled up. You make a bad play? Just keep going. Theres a lot of game left. Its good to have him around.
Braun admits that being in the lineup on a night-in night-out basis has its benefits.
There are always other guys biting at your heels for spots so youve got to play well every night, but its a good feeling playing a lot in a row. You get used to games and dont want to lose that feeling, he said.
Murray and Vandermeer are getting closer to a return, though, as both have been skating with the team this week. Although they will probably not be ready against the Kings on Friday night, they could both be taken off of injured reserve at some point next week.
When that happens, it will be decision time for McLellan again.
Its really good for us to have eight quality NHL defensemen that we can play and were comfortable with that. Thats something we created and had a desire for, said the coach. In the same breath, its also hard for them because they know that two bodies around going to be in on most nights when theyre all healthy.