Mur­phy up for any­thing to stay in Quen­neville’s lineup

Chicago Sun-Times - - BLACK­HAWKS BEAT - MARK LAZERUS Fol­low me on Twit­ter @MarkLazerus. Email: mlazerus@sun­

Con­nor Mur­phy chased down the puck in the cor­ner and was about to rim it around the boards with a back­hand. But with Mon­treal’s Max Pa­cioretty pres­sur­ing, Mur­phy hes­i­tated for a split- sec­ond. That’s all it took for Pa­cioretty to jar the puck loose, An­drew Shaw to nudge it up the boards, Phil Danault to send it up to the point and Joe Mor­row to blast it past Corey Craw­ford.

Just like that, a close game was all but out of reach.

Ev­ery de­fense­man makes that mis­take at some point. Ev­ery de­fense­man will oc­ca­sion­ally muff a clear­ing at­tempt, make an ill- ad­vised pass through the mid­dle, turn the wrong way while backpedal­ing. Ev­ery de­fense­man will see one of his mis­takes end up in the back of his own net from time to time. And it will eat them up in­side ev­ery time.

But it’s so much worse when you’re not an en­trenched, es­tab­lished guy — when you know that one lit­tle mis­take could cost you your spot in the lineup.

“That can creep into your game,” Mur­phy said. “It’s just be­ing hu­man. You’re al­ways pretty hard on your­self, mak­ing mis­takes and let­ting up goals. And a mis­take like that late in the game is frus­trat­ing. And [ be­ing in and out of the lineup] does give you that lit­tle ex­tra bit of stress af­ter a game if some­thing like that hap­pens. You’ve just got to stick with the process and keep play­ing and know that mis­takes are go­ing to hap­pen.”

It’s start­ing to get eas­ier for Mur­phy to play free and easy, to not look over his shoul­der for a venge­ful Joel Quen­neville af­ter ev­ery lit­tle mis­take. The ins and outs of the Hawks’ sys­tem are start­ing to be­come sec­ond na­ture, as early- sea­son over­think­ing yields to mid­sea­son mus­cle mem­ory.

But the fact is, Mur­phy’s grasp on a spot in the lineup is ten­u­ous at best. Brought in to be Dun­can Keith’s part­ner on the top pair­ing, Mur­phy was a healthy scratch in three of the first 12 games and has found him­self be­hind Jan Rutta, Brent Seabrook and now Cody Fran­son on the right- side peck­ing or­der.

So when Quen­neville de­cided to put him on the left side ahead of Thurs­day’s game against the Fly­ers, Mur­phy hap­pily took the as­sign­ment. Any­thing’s bet­ter than watch­ing in street clothes.

“It’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent feel, but it’s still hockey,” he said.

Quen­neville seems to be ex­per­i­ment­ing as much as any­thing. In Gus­tav Forsling’s ab­sence the last three games ( he’ll re­turn in Philadel­phia), Quen­neville learned that Rutta can play both sides ad­e­quately. Now he wants to find out if Mur­phy can, too, to give him fur­ther op­tions.

“He’s been fine,” Quen­neville said. “He’s com­ing along here, get­ting more com­fort­able with how we have to play, what he needs to do to be ef­fec­tive. He’s get­ting more in­volved of­fen­sively and has more sup­port on the at­tack. His gap’s been fine. We like to do things quick and fast, and he’s come a long way.”

The ques­tion is, will any of that mus­cle mem­ory Mur­phy has fi­nally built up be ren­dered use­less by play­ing on the left side, which he has never played? Will he chase pucks into the wrong cor­ner? Will he strug­gle de­fend­ing the wall on the back­hand? Will he find him­self twist­ing the wrong away while de­fend­ing the rush?

Mur­phy doesn’t quite know what to ex­pect, whether the change will be harder of­fen­sively or de­fen­sively.

“I don’t know be­cause I haven’t done it,” he said with a laugh.

Don’t mis­take that for com­plain­ing, though. Mur­phy has faced all the early- sea­son frus­tra­tions with his usual good hu­mor and un­der­stand­ing. He just wants to play, to stay in the lineup and to make a dif­fer­ence — any way he can.

“That’s the name of the game — try­ing to keep play­ing and do what you can to help,” Mur­phy said. “If I had to play goalie to stay in the lineup, I would.”

Black­hawks de­fense­man Con­nor Mur­phy was a healthy scratch in three of the first 12 games. | JONATHAN DANIEL/ GETTY IM­AGES

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