SAN JOSE In the few games prior to Marty Havlat suffering a serious left hamstring injury, the winger looked to be finding his game. He was skating well, setting up his linemates, and even scored his second goal the night he got hurt on Dec. 17 against Edmonton.
In his long-awaited return against the Predators on Thursday night at HP Pavilion, Havlat looked more like that player than the one who struggled earlier.
If you were astonished to see just how effective he was, well, Havlat hears you. CSNCalifornia.com caught up with him after the game.
Actually better than in October when I was coming back, so I was a surprised the way I felt, Havlat said, after the 2-1 shootout win over Nashville. At the end I was getting a little tired, but it was great for a first time.
I felt more tired at the beginning of the season when I was coming back in New Jersey. Physically, I felt better.
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Havlat is referring to his first comeback this year, when he missed the opening four games of the season and all of training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He had five assists in his first four games, beginning on Oct. 21 against the Devils, but later suffered a stretch in which he had no goals and four assists over 16 games beginning in mid-November.
Against the Predators, Havlat skated on the second line with Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau, finishing with three shots in 18:47 of ice time.
Color Clowe impressed.
It was nice to play with him again. He had the shoulder bobs going again,said Clowe, with a smile. He was really good. It was nice to have his creativity back there, and he made some big plays and had some pretty good chances, too. He looked like he had a lot of energy, and Im sure hell get better.
A good return almost became a great one when Havlat had maybe the Sharks best scoring chance through the first two periods. Clowe set him up with an opportunity alone in front of the net, but Preds goalie Pekka Rinne made a highlight-reel save when he denied Havlats attempt at the side of the net with about five minutes to go in the period.
I let the puck go a little too far, then he had a great save on the rebound, Havlat said. He didnt give up on the play. If he didnt it would maybe be in, but with his glove leaning forward, he made a great save.
Havlat was involved in a pretty significant scrum with Rinne and Buffalo forward Paul Gaustad shortly after that, when Havlat inadvertently tripped the Preds goalie.
Although he and Gaustad got coincidental minors from it, Havlat was pleased with the way his knee held up in what was a physical, fast-paced game.
He said: I had a couple battles there when I was pushed, and everything went well the first game. Im happy the way it felt during the whole night.
Todd McLellan was also thrilled to have one of his top six forwards back, as the Sharks still have just 13 goals in their last nine games and are still searching for more offense.
I thought he made a difference tonight. You could his skill level and the difference that it made with our second line, McLellan said. He had the puck a lot, went to it, managed himself well, didnt get caught out tired. I think he can leave the rink and feel good about his game.