Defenseman Zbynek Michalek
was signed by the Penguins in the offseason to provide a defensive shutdown presence, but adaption to the Penguins’ system was stymied by an early season shoulder injury.
However, since returning to the lineup Michalek has improved in each game. His best effort of the year came in Pittsburgh’s impressive 3-1 win over Western Conference heavyweight Vancouver.
“I feel my game is going in the right direction the last few games,” Michalek said. “I was just trying to make sure that one mistake doesn’t lead me off the track. I want to come back with a strong effort and help the team win. The team played well. (Marc-Andre Fleury
) was awesome and we got a big win against a really good team. But it’s only one win. We’ll have to prove it again (Friday).”
Michalek logged a game-high 25:38 minutes of ice time against the Canucks, and helped the Penguins contain 2010 NHL scoring champion Henrik Sedin and his dangerous sniping twin brother Daniel to an assist each.
Michalek also had 4:47 minutes of shorthanded time, shutting out the NHL’s No. 2 ranked power play. He finished the game with a plus-2 rating, four shots and two blocked shots.
Head coach Dan Bylsma believes that Michalek was a huge factor in the Penguins’ win.
“I think it was one of Zbynek Michalek
’s best games,” Bylsma said. “He was a warrior out there defending: position wise; puck-battling wise; and on the penalty kill out there against their good players. He was taking away time and space. That’s what he does well. The battle out there with both him and Brooks Orpik
was a factor, and Zbynek Michalek
was a leader in that.”
Michalek’s battle level is a strong sign that he’s fully recovered from his early-season injury. He hurt his shoulder at New Jersey Oct. 11 – the third game of the year.
Michalek used his rehab time to learn the Penguins’ system and language. He returned to action three weeks later in Dallas (Nov. 3), and has steadily improved with each game.
“I feel really good on the ice. I feel comfortable and healthy,” Michalek said. “There are no excuses. I’m here to play my game and help the team win. Whatever I can do on the ice, I have to keep improving.”