Manny Malhotra is rusty and it shows.
“I had to give him heck right away because he went offside on one of our simple little warm-up drills,” joked Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness.
Malhotra, dressed in a team track suit wearing a full mask, was back on the ice with the Canucks Thursday at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at University of British Columbia for the first time since suffering an eye injury against the Colorado Avalanche on March 16th.
The veteran forward’s presence, on what was otherwise a routine practice day, was uplifting for teammates, staff, coaches and fans alike.
Unfortunately, it was nothing more than that.
Despite taking a few lighthearted shifts on Vancouver’s fourth line, alongside Victor Oreskovich and Tanner Glass today, Malhotra will not return to the Canucks line-up this spring.
Don’t take my word for it; general manager Mike Gillis made it as clear as possible this morning on the Team 1040.
“I think it’s extremely unlikely that he would be able to play in this playoffs,” said Gillis, adding that Malhotra taking part in practice was “another step in a continuing process.”
“He has to be very careful over the next period of time, there’s still a couple of things he has to go through in order to continue to progress. It’s a day-to-day, week-to-week thing, there’s always an opportunity for a setback if something goes wrong, but so far it’s been managed very well and he’s continuing to improve and get better."
Still, Malhotra being around the team throughout the playoffs has been elevating for the Canucks.
“It’s good to have him around,” said Alex Edler, “he’s kind of like an extra coach out there that you can ask about certain situations, especially like PK, which he’s very good at.”
“He’s a leader, first and foremost,” commented Roberto Luongo, on what Malhotra brings to the team despite not playing.
“He sees the game right now from a different perspective than we do and if he sees something and wants to add it, he does, and I think it’s key to have that, especially in the playoffs when you see the same team night in and night out.”
MISSING IN ACTION
Manny Malhotra skated, but five other Canucks did not.
Defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo, and forwards Chris Higgins, MIkael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin were all absent from practice Thursday.
No need to fret, associate coach Rick Bowness said the length of time between Western Conference Semifinals and Finals opened the door to some extra rest for the players that needed it.
“That was a very grueling series with Nashville, you give them a ton of credit, they made it very hard for us to move,” explained Bowness.
“They made it very hard on all of our defencemen with all their dump-ins and the forechecking pressure and the finishing checks; that was a grueling series and it was hard on Hank battling those guys all the time, Suter and Weber, those a big boys that will wear you down.”
Will any or all of the missing five Canucks practice Friday?
“They’ll be ready Sunday and to us, that’s all that matters.”
SHARKS OR RED WINGS?
The speculation ends tonight.
Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings plays out tonight in San Jose (TSN @ 5:30 pm PST); unless these teams go the route of Game 7 between the Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks and overtime is in the cards, Vancouver should know its Round 3 opponent around 8:30 pm PST.
And no, the players don’t care who they play. If we ask them again, they’re going to snap. All of them.
“We’re all going to be watching tonight, no doubt,” said Luongo. “It’s going to be a great game, it’s going to be exciting and we’ll keep a close eye on it.
“It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day it’s about ourselves and playing our game, making sure we don’t give the opposition time and space.”