SAN JOSE Theres no doubt the Sharks missed Ryane Clowe when he sat out for six games with a facial fracture from Jan. 17 until the end of the month. In the first five games Clowe was unavailable, the Sharks managed just eight goals before exploding for six against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 31 in a dominant 6-0 win.
Clowe returned against Dallas on Feb. 2, and scored his 10th goal in San Joses 5-2 win. On Saturday in Phoenix, he registered an assist on each of the Sharks three goals in a 5-3 loss to the Coyotes.
It was Clowes first three-point game of the season.
While the wildly competitive forward never wants to miss time, and is still wearing a shield to protect his face, his two-week break to recover could benefit him for the stretch run. The Sharks have 32 games left in just 59 days, beginning tonight against Calgary, and are going to need a healthy Clowe if they want to challenge for the top spot in the Western Conference -- something that is still well within their reach.
He admitted as much after Tuesdays practice at Sharks Ice.
Im kind of feeling it right now, the fact that I did have that rest. I was kind of worried that jumping right back in Id be kind of behind the eight ball or a little tired, but I actually think it helped me, Clowe said. I think before the All-Star break and heading into the second half, I knew I could take my game to another level. I needed to. Its only two games, but I definitely feel pretty good right now.
Its always easy to say that after the fact, and well say that now. His two-week break, thats great, he should be a little more refreshed than most of the players, Todd McLellan said. But, nobody sets out for that. We would have preferred to have him in the lineup and him manage himself, so that the energy level stays high.
Clowes offensive numbers are solid, with 30 points in 44 games played, and although hell likely never be a 40-goal scorer or 100-point guy, Clowe is able to create space for his teammates with his intimidating style and physical nature. It was evident that was missing from the Sharks when he was out.
Hes also as important player in the Sharks locker room as anyone on the team.
Hes a pretty passionate guy, and it rubs off on a lot of others, McLellan said. Sometimes it gets the better of him and he gets a little frustrated, but hes a big man with good vision, can protect pucks, hes not afraid of anything and will go into hard areas to play.
When Clowie is involved hes making other people better, and I think thats a sign of a real good player.
Like most players that rarely come out of the lineup, seeing the game from a different perspective is also something Clowe may be able to profit from.
You think, why didnt you make that play? or how did you not see that, with so much time? Then you get down in the dressing room and walk out on the bench, and its like, man, this is fast. Am I going to be able to jump back into this right away? Its kind of intimidating down there. Everything is slow up top, he said.
Thats the biggest difference. You realize watching that in certain areas at certain times you might have a bit more time than you actually think.
Clowe was part of a power play goal in the second period on a newly put together unit, recording a secondary helper. McLellan has moved Joe Pavelski to the point on the first unit, meaning Clowe is now taking shifts on a man advantage with Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Jamie McGinn and Michal Handzus.
The top unit will obviously get the majority of the power play time, but Clowe likes his unit and thinks they bring a different element that all of that speed and skill on the other one.
I think right now, those guys have got a lot more motion going on and were a little bit more meat and potatoes, he said. With the goal we scored the last game, I think thats sort of how were going to find ways. Were not going to have the minute and a half to work with, so were going to have to get pucks to the net quick.
Its a different look to have Burnsie back there, and I like being on the power play with Burnsie and the element of a big shot. I like to use the point, and I think Jamie McGinn and Zeus are really good at getting to the net. I like our unit.
When asked if he doesnt mind standing in front of the crease awaiting a big shot from the point that could be coming directly towards him, Clowe reminded everyone again of just how aggressive and competitive he is.
Youre got to man up and get in the goalies eyes. Guys do it around the league, so theres no excuse, he said.