VANCOUVER – You never, ever really know when it comes to injury disclosure with this league, but all indications point to Manny Malhotra completing a remarkable comeback in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final after almost three months out of the lineup.
Neither the Canucks nor Malhotra would say he will play, instead insisting it would be a “game-time decision.” But Malhotra will take the warm-up and when pressed, both he and Canucks coach Alain Vigneault spoke in the present tense. Even though his injured left eye still looks extremely swollen and half-shut, Malhotra said “well enough,” when asked how well he could see through the eye.
“I’ve been cleared to play and I feel confident on the ice and that’s all that matters at this point,” Malhotra said.
One thing Vigneault did make certain was that if Malhotra does play, it will be in a fourth-line and penalty-killing role. That’s largely because the newly constructed third line of Jannik Hansen between Raffi Torres and Maxim Lapierre has been so effective and was the Canucks best forward unit in Game 1. Malhotra would likely take Alex Bolduc’s spot on the rarely used fourth line along with Jeff Tambellini and Victor Oreskovich.
Tambellini led all Canucks fourth-liners with just 2:30 in ice time in Game 1, but Malhotra would almost certainly get significantly more than that, particularly if Vancouver takes as many penalties as it did in Game 1.
“I think if he is able to play…we’ll ease him in,” Vigneault said. “His strong points are he’s good on faceoffs, he’s smart in our zone. So probably in those situations there we would use him. I’m definitely not going to use him with the linemates he had before. That line is playing really well - Torres, Lapierre and Hansen. I have no intention of breaking that up.”
If Malhotra plays, it is sure to be an emotional evening for him and the Canucks. After taking a deflected puck in the left eye March 16, it looked certain that Malhotra’s season, and perhaps his career, was over. After having extensive surgery on the eye in New York, Malhotra addressed his teammates to tell them they would have to win a Cup without him. Malhotra is extremely popular in the dressing room and it was a poignant moment, with tears being shed by Malhotra and his teammates.
But despite the injury, Malhotra has been around the team almost constantly since and has been in on most of the meetings and team strategy sessions, all of which will make the transition more seamless when he does ultimately return to the lineup.
“It’s tough to say how your legs are going to respond, but I’ve felt good the past few days of skating as far as my wind goes,” Malhotra said. “But early on, the thing we’re going to talk about if I go is simplicity - getting my feet moving, getting pucks in, making smart decisions with the puck, keeping things real basic right now.”
It’s likely Dan Hamhuis is out with an ankle injury suffered in Game 1, but in surprises of surprises, the Canucks would not say who would replace him. Until practice Friday, most assumed it would be $4.1 million defenseman Keith Ballard, but Andrew Alberts practiced with the top six. The pairings in practice were Kevin Bieksa-Aaron Rome, Sami Salo-Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff-Alberts.
All the secrecy led to the longstanding debate about whether the NHL should disclose injuries. Vigneault maintained he would do whatever is allowed to protect his players and not give his opponent any kind of edge. The media certainly has an appetite for knowing who is hurt, who is healthy and how long players will be out, but does it make a difference to the fans?
Feel free to debate that among yourselves.
It was brought up that the National Football League, the most successful league in the world, has a policy of providing detailed injury reports by the Thursday before the game. That’s largely to appease the enormous gambling population that exist in the NFL, something that is virtually non-existent in hockey.
Actually, according to former NHL Players’ Association executive director Bob Goodenow, the story of how the NFL began disclosing injuries is an interesting one. He once told me that it all began in 1987 when the NFL players went on strike and the league responded by using replacement players. Knowing there would be little interest from a competitive standpoint, the league implored the powers that be in Las Vegas to run a betting line, thereby creating interest at least among those who put money down on games. Vegas complied, according to Goodenow, but in exchange the league had to begin disclosing injuries.
If that is indeed the case, don’t expect hockey’s longstanding policy of secrecy to change anytime soon.
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