SAN JOSE, Calif. — Few players in the NHL hit like San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray. In open ice, he can hammer opponents with the precision and power that's hard to measure.
"He's just a beast. You see him off the ice, he's just a big tree trunk," teammate Jamie McGinn said. "Anyone coming at you with that kind of weight, you're going to feel it, and that's going to hurt."
Murray is an equal-opportunity hitter, willing to pummel anything that moves on the ice, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pound "beast" concedes he can't and won't do it like he used to.
"I've changed my hitting a little bit with the new rules, as well," Murray said. "I'm the first to admit, if you look back at some of my hits from a couple years ago, I probably would have got a blindside — like when the guy's not looking your way and you're hitting him."
Murray learned how to make big open-ice hits from his grandfather and from ex-Washington Capitals defenseman Scott Stevens. Stevens' most famous hits, including his ones on Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya, would be illegal under new NHL rules designed to curb head shots.
"You've got to adjust with the times," Murray said. "But once you have the timing down to do those, you should have the timing to do legal ones within the rules, too."
That's still what Murray does well, catching opponents with monster checks and being an intimidating force in the defensive zone.
"I think he hits in the right spot and sometimes catches people off-guard," McGinn said. "He does a lot of counter hitting, and he's really good at it."
Maybe too good. As part of his development, the 31-year-old has gotten better at understanding when to lay an opponent out with a big hit and when to back off.
"I get less hits, but I probably a better player for the team because I don't get myself out of position," he said. "That's the hardest thing when you're going to be a physical player, and they know you're a physical player. People are not dumb around the league; they know where you are, and they expect me coming. You can easily get yourself out of position if you're looking for it."
But Murray and McGinn don't go looking for hits specifically against injured players. The Capitals don't have center Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup Saturday night, but defenseman Mike Green is less than a year removed from a concussion.
There's a belief that teams target Green for hits, even if they're legal, because of his various injuries. But Sharks players said although they won't shy away from contact, they're not zeroing in on specific guys.
"You don't think about it. Anyone with the puck, you want to finish the body because it can be crucial," McGinn said. "If you turn away from a hit, a guy like Mike Green, you turn away, he jumps by you, he join the rush and he could be getting the puck, and then he can put it in the net, so it's your fault for not finishing the check."
New rules and NHL senior vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan's suspension process have changed things, too.
"At the same time you don't want to hurt anyone, because it seems like if anyone gets hurt, you're definitely going to be suspended," McGinn added.
Murray already has the reputation as one of the NHL's hardest hitters, but doesn't want to pick up a rap for being a dirty one.
"People always think that you aim for certain guys more, but you don't," he said. "If the opportunity's there, you take it. When I was younger, maybe I was running around trying to hit guys more. Now, it kind of comes to me more than anything. You would never target a guy that has a concussion. These days I hope to not put them on the ice while they still have a problem with their head. I would never do that."
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