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Strongman Douglas Murray Is Weak Link on Pittsburgh Penguins Blueline

Despite His Folk-Hero Appeal, New Penguins Defenseman Douglas Murray Has Been Rather Common

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COMMENTARY | Before he even suited up for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Douglas Murray had become an overnight fan-favorite. After all, he seemed custom-fitted for the denizens of Pittsburgh.

His 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame inspired nostalgia for tower of power Hal Gill and another hard-hitting Swede that wore the black and gold, Ulf Samuellson. His entrepreneurial venture in marketing a multi-spigoted beer tap, devised in his days playing college hockey at Cornell, painted him as a real guy's guy. There was the short-lived but paparazzi-ready relationship with Swedish beauty Elin Nordegren.

And the hits. Oh, the hits.

Murray has starred in a veritable internet smorgasbord of homages to his bruising open-ice checks that have left a vast trail of hockey roadkill -- an intense physicality that has inspired nicknames like Crankshaft, Swedish Thunder and Hulk.

But beyond the folk-hero lore, beyond the man crushes and talk of Scottish vikings, Murray's time in Pittsburgh has been characterized by relatively pedestrian play.

When Penguins general manager Ray Shero acquired the behemoth blueliner for a pair of second-round picks, he understood why he was being added to Pittsburgh's locked and loaded lineup.

"Play physical. Help kill penalties."

Playing physical has been a given, and Pittsburgh already had a few big-hitting defensemen in Brooks Orpik and Robert Bortuzzo -- and to a lesser extent, Derek Engelland. But killing penalties has been imperative, especially after a sub-par unit led to the Penguins' demise in their two previous first-round exits from the playoffs.

Murray was brought in, then, primarily as a penalty-kill specialist. And yet in his 14 regular-season games with the Penguins, he has been anything but.

Prior to his arrival, the Penguins' penalty kill was succeeding at just a 79.49-percent clip, bad enough to put them near the bottom of the league in that category. Since Murray joined the team, they made a minimal improvement to 79.59 percent.

Not that the big Swede had much to do with it. The more startling stat is that of the 10 power-play goals given up by the Penguins since his arrival -- the slow and plodding Murray was on the ice for nine of them. The next worse ratios on the team belonged to Orpik and Matt Cooke, who were each on the ice for 21 of 34 power-play goals scored against Pittsburgh. Being partially responsible for 90 percent of the team's penalty kill failures doesn't inspire confidence, nor does a negative plus-minus (minus-1) while playing for the league's highest-scoring team.

It may be unfair to expect the same return on investment for Murray as for the Penguins' other deadline acquisitions -- Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen. But it is fair to demand he at least meet the basic expectations bestowed on him by the team.

The Penguins have had an embarrassment of riches on the blueline, so much so that they could trade Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim for a late-round pick, and let the Islanders pick Brian Strait up off waivers. Bortuzzo and former first-round pick Simon Depres have been more acclimated to wearing street clothes in the press box than donning shin guards in the slot. Once Orpik returns from injury, someone else will have to join them. Odds are that the odd man out will be Engelland but in the fishbowl that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, his ability to go stride for stride with speedy forwards carries extreme significance.

Will Penguins coach Dan Bylsma even entertain the idea of giving Murray a night off? He should.

Size matters, but in the ultra-fast NHL of today, speed kills. And in that regard, Murray is getting slaughtered out there.

Pittsburgh native Steve Wozniak has covered college hockey and the NHL for nearly a decade, first with the South Bend Tribune and more recently for Hockey Primetime.

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