SAN JOSE – Sharks rookie defenseman Matt Irwin needed a break.
On Tuesday against the Kings, he was pulled from the lineup in favor of Scott Hannan, who had been recovering from a neck injury and had yet to play since he was acquired by the Sharks at the April 3 trade deadline. Irwin returned on Thursday against Minnesota, and was an effective player in nearly 20 minutes of ice time, finishing +2 with three shots on goal.
“For him to get a game just to sit and watch and catch his breath, I thought we saw the results of that tonight,” McLellan said after the 6-1 victory over the Wild on Thursday. “He was fresher, and made some good plays.”
Unlike the majority of Sharks, some of whom played overseas for a brief stretch of time, Irwin has been playing regularly since early October. He started the season with AHL Worcester, and played 35 games there total. Combine that with 34 games his rookie season at the NHL level, without much time for a break, and it’s been a hectic year for the 25-year-old.
Irwin had no qualms with watching a game from the press box after 24 in a row on the ice.
“They saw stuff in my game that wasn’t where it was at before, and that could have to do with me playing a lot of games and minutes down there and then coming up here, and playing every other night,” Irwin said on Saturday. “I agreed with their decision, of course. They wanted to get Scottie into a game, and it was good to see him out there and back in a Sharks uniform. Whatever I had to do to help the team, I’m all for.”
How is his energy level now?
“Good. I feel great. You’re always thinking about the next game after you play. You’ve got one day to kind of relax, keep to yourself, and you’re right back at it.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and a good journey so far. We’ve got a good group of guys in here, and we’re looking to go a long way.”
To say it’s been a successful season personally for the British Columbia native, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, is an understatement. Irwin’s six goals tie him for second in the league among rookie defensemen, with Justin Schultz of Edmonton and just one behind L.A.’s Jake Muzzin. His 10 points is tied for sixth.
He continues to show a knack for getting shots to the net, and is third in the league for rookie defensemen with 72. He has four games with at least five shots on goal, more than any other first-year blueliner.