In the Sharks first five years of existence, they had five different players lead them in goal scoring. Included in that group were Pat Falloon, Kelly Kisio, Sergei Makarov, Jeff Friesen and Owen Nolan. In the four most recent seasons, either Jonathan Cheechoo or Patrick Marleau
finished with at least a share of the lead.
If the regular season ended today, San Jose would have someone new atop their goal scoring list. Milan Michalek leads the Sharks with 16 tallies and is closely followed by Joe Thornton
with 15. Michalek’s center thinks really big things are coming for his winger.
“He creates so many offensive opportunities and has the capabilities to score so many goals,” said Thornton. “It’s not a shock he’s at the top of our team.”
Being a club’s leader in goals brings a different level of attention from the opposition. Michalek is routinely around the crease and has no problem with the pushing and shoving it sometimes creates.
“Teams know he is one of our better players and they’re going to be hard on him,” said defenseman Craig Rivet. “He can handle that part of the game.”
Rivet goes up against Michalek every day in practice and knows how difficult he is to handle.
“He’s six-feet-two, 230 pounds and skates like he’s 110 pounds,” said Rivet. “He’s skilled and strong and that combination is difficult to play against.”
The Czech Republic native, selected sixth overall back in 2003 and now 23 years old, is still reminding himself to be even more of a goal scorer.
“I think I’ve been better this year,” said Michalek, who set a career high with 26 in 2006-07. “I’m trying to put the puck in the net and shoot as much as I can. It took almost two years of the coaches telling me to shoot.”
Part of the problem was not necessarily Michalek’s talent, but his background.
“In Europe, it is a lot of puck possession and it was a big change for me,” said Michalek.
Since he moved to the Czech men’s league as a 16-year-old and was only able to play nine North American games in his first two years due to injury, Michalek has to stop and think about the last time he led his team in scoring.
“I don’t remember . . . juniors,” said Michalek. “I wasn’t there very long because I went to the men’s league.”
Michalek has one of the National Hockey League’s more intense pregame warmups, a ritual steeped in his desire to stay healthy. After participating in the team’s pregame soccer sessions and meetings, Michalek retires to the back hallway of HP Pavilion to break a sweat. This preparation is in addition to his time on the stationary bike.
The routine consists of skipping rope, stretching, high knee jumps, running sideways by shuffling and crossovers, running backwards and doing squats and lunges.
“I do 10 minutes on the bike and 15 minutes jumping,” said Michalek. “I like to be sweating before the game. I feel better in the first period. Everything is warmed up.”
Michalek did not always have the intense pregame routine, but the knee injury in his rookie season that limited him to two NHL games in two years, and the subsequent rehabilitation, changed his approach.
“I used to not do anything before a game,” said Michalek. “Before the injury, I would just sit and do nothing. Since the injury . . . I don’t want it to happen again. At least the injury was good for something.”
Michalek has not only kept free from any additional knee issues, but has been clear of many common hockey injuries as well.
“I don’t have problems with pulled groins,” said Michalek.
There are times when Michalek would rather skip the routine, but he won’t actually let that happen.
“Sometimes it’s boring before a game and I don’t want to do it,” said Michalek. “Sometimes I’m really tired, but I’ll always do it.”
As long as he keeps up the current scoring pace, his teammates will let him do whatever he wants.
Tomas Plihal was promoted from San Jose’s top development affiliate in Worcester on Sunday and based on today’s practice, could see his first NHL action of the year on Tuesday against Chicago. Plihal skated on a line with Patrick Marleau
and Steve Bernier.
In three Sharks games last season, Michalek’s countryman did not register one point and had 10 shots. Plihal has posted 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 20 games with Worcester this season and was second on the team with a plus-4.
Plihal injured his shoulder in training camp and could not even report to Worcester until Nov. 29.
The Sharks will play hosts to Chicago Tuesday at HP Pavilion and limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be available on FSN Bay Area in High Definition, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.