David Pollak of Working The Corners attended the first Sharks practice since a 3-0 loss to Buffalo on February 13th, reporting on the non-Olympians as they gear up for the stretch run. Our coverage on Fear The Fin has centered almost exclusively around the Vancouver Games, and this article is a good catalyst for us to transition into what should be a compelling push towards yet another playoff run.
For starters, 38 year old Steve Shields was in net at practice. As Pollak mentions, Shields manned the pipes during San Jose's upset of the St. Louis Blues during the 2000 playoffs. That series was a perfect example of the volatility of playoff hockey-- it seemed as if every break went San Jose's way, from goals scored at off angles to St. Louis shots that rang off the pipes. And, of course, Owen Nolan's infamous goal from center ice in the waning seconds of the seventh game's first period, which stunned the crowd and put the Sharks up 2-0; they would go on to win that game by a score of 3-1, and cement the organization as a giant killer following equally surprising defeats of the Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames in the mid-90's.
Pollak also goes on to explain that Niclas Wallin is finally getting an opportunity to grasp the system, and that McLellan is using these practices as a mini-camp in order to emphasize the basics. All Sharks Olympians who have concluded their stay in Vancouver (Nabokov, Greiss, Murray) will be given some time off to rest.
The most interesting piece of information comes in the middle of the article. Manny Malhotra will be returning to the ice after the break, but defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was not at Sharks Ice and his return to the team is still unknown.
We broke down his injury against the Chicago Blackhawks in late January this year. It is my belief that he suffered a knee injury, and at this point, you have to start to wonder just how serious things are. To my knowledge he has yet to skate with the team since leaving that game, and with San Jose's defense already a concern for the organization, losing your best shutdown defenseman will have some serious ramifications.
The trade freeze is lifted on Monday morning. With the deadline less than a week away, Vlasic's health will probably play the largest role in how Doug Wilson handles negotiations.
Keep your eye on this one.