Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Canucks lifted by Malhotra appearance

Categories: VAN vs. SJS, Vancouver Canucks

Story Tools

Manny Malhotra was lost for the season after he suffered a serious, career-threatening eye injury when he was hit with a puck in a game against the Colorado Avalanche two months ago. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Manny Malhotra was lost for the season after he suffered a serious, career-threatening eye injury when he was hit with a puck in a game against the Colorado Avalanche two months ago. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

There was a spring in the step of the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.

They noticeably were on their game as head coach Alain Vigneault and his staff ran the players through up-tempo line rushes and power-play drills at Father David Bauer Arena on the campus of the University of British Columbia.

The reason? The Canucks welcomed back third-line centre Manny Malhotra to practice with full equipment on. Malhotra, who also wore a full-face shield, was lost for the season after he suffered a serious, career-threatening eye injury when he was hit with a puck in a game against the Colorado Avalanche two months ago.

He's undergone two surgeries and there has been speculation more operations may be required in the off-season. But he's still a popular teammate who has helped the Canucks prepare for the Western Conference final against his old team, the San Jose Sharks.

To see him out there smiling and participating in drills, after a week skating in sweats with the team's extras, was a welcome sight to the Canucks.

"He looked like he was having a lot of fun out there," Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. "I'm sure he wants to be a part of it. He's got to take his time, it's such a delicate injury. But it's good to see how far he's recovered from just even a couple weeks ago."

The popular Malhotra, who turns 31 on Wednesday, has not been cleared for contact and the Canucks have kept him away from reporters since he publicly discussed his injury six weeks ago.

"We're not going to discuss his physical situation, his eye," Vigneault said. "All I can tell you is I want him around the team, and that's it.

"Having him around the team, he's been a very important part of our group, of our leadership group. I want him around the team and he's around the team. It's that simple."

'He's a great leader': Bieksa

That's why Malhotra has accompanied the Canucks to Chicago and Nashville, and will be with his teammates in San Jose.

"For a guy that has been out for a long period of time before, usually there's a disconnect with the players," Bieksa said. "Eventually that happens over time because you're not with the guys in practicing, not traveling with the team. I think with Manny from the beginning, coaches, players, we told Manny that we wanted him around as much as possible. He makes a lot of contributions in the locker room.

"He's a great leader for us. He's been there every step of the way. I know he's getting a little more publicity because he's skating. But he's been with us since day one of his injury, since the beginning of the playoffs, every single meeting. Often between periods we're going into the other room and talking to him, seeing what he sees from up top. He's giving us great feedback. He's still a huge part of this team."

Malhotra signed in the off-season with the Canucks after a year with the Sharks. When he joined his new teammates for informal workouts in late August, there he was running drills.

"It's no secret the kind of guy Manny is," Bieksa said. "You can see it without getting into the dressing room. He's a class act guy, a natural leader. Guys follow him. He's very intelligent. He chooses his words wisely, makes a lot of sense. He's got a good pulse for the game."

But with him on the ice, there always is that danger that people might speculate that a return to action is around the corner.

"We're jumping the gun here," Bieksa said. "This is not our decision. This is something between the doctors, the trainers and Manny. It's all very well thought out. It's not, 'Hey, do you want to skate today, Manny? Oh, well, sure. Let's get out there.' It's well thought out. Let's not overreact here."

Fourth-line tinkering

The only noticeable alteration in line combinations for the Canucks in practice on Tuesday was that Vigneault replaced Tanner Glass with Jeff Tambellini in the left wing spot on the fourth line with centre Cody Hodgson and right wing Victor Oreskovich.

It's a move that Vigneault may make for Game 2 on Wednesday.

"For Tambellini, just tried something today. Maybe there will be some changes tomorrow, I'm not sure," the Canucks coach said.

"Tanner is more a physical presence. Jeff is more speed and skill, good puck management. Both bring different components. We'll see what we want to do tomorrow."