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PHILADELPHIA – The band is back together.
Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Antti Niemi all skated with their Sharks teammates for the first time in nearly three weeks, joining the team in Philadelphia for practice on Wednesday. The final 23-game stretch starts on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center against the Flyers.
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“I felt like we were energized a little bit today,” said Todd McLellan, who led the skate at a rink on campus at the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t know if that’s because we were in a different building, or if they’re back and guys are excited to see them, but our first full workout as a group. Now, back to work. It’s time to play games, it really is. It’s been long enough.”
Each of the four Sharks that participated in the Olympics had a unique experience.
For Marleau, it was his second time on Team Canada, and thus his second career gold medal. The forward played a key role, finishing with four assists and looking particularly strong on a line that included the Kings’ Jeff Carter. He’ll now try and get his NHL season back on track, after he was arguably the team’s best player through December before slowing down.
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“You have to switch gears pretty quickly and get back into Shark mode, and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Marleau said. “Over there, it was about Team Canada and winning there. Now, it’s about Sharks and winning here. Having a lot of guys coming back (from injury), there’s a lot of excitement about our team right now, I feel.”
Vlasic played in his first Olympics, and was part of a smothering defense that allowed just three goals in six games. He was scoreless with a +3 rating.
“I had a lot of confidence in the tournament and I can bring that to the Sharks for the rest of the year,” said Vlasic, who was paired primarily with the Kings’ Drew Doughty. “I thought my game grew in the Olympics. Personally, I thought I played well, and I can bring that to help the team win the Cup.”
There were no issues playing with Doughty, and other players typically skating on rival clubs, such as the Anaheim Ducks’ Corey Perry.
“I got along very well with Doughty. He’s a great guy on and off the ice,” Vlasic said.
“Corey Perry’s a great guy. When you win a [gold medal], later on you always have a bond with somebody. That’s what we’ve got.”
Niemi did not play for Team Finland as the third string goaltender. Still, he was proud to be a part of the country that captured the bronze medal, beating the Americans in the consolation game.
“Just a huge thing for the whole country, pretty much,” Niemi said. “Over half the population watched the games, so it was a huge deal.”
He also indicated that he's refreshed and ready to start the stretch run, admitting a break from game action could be beneficial.
“I feel it was just the perfect two weeks for me, skating with the team, not skating a lot, just a couple drills a day pretty much, and not staying out there for too long,” he said. “I feel rested, and I still had good practices, but not too much. I didn’t play, so I think my mind is rested, too. I feel pretty good right now.”
Pavelski was the only player to come home without a medal. Team USA looked dominant through the preliminary round, and Pavelski was part of that on a line with Toronto’s Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, but the Americans failed to score a single goal against Canada and Finland in finishing fourth. Pavelski had one goal and four assists in six games.
“Definitely a tough ending,” said Pavelski, who won a silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver. “You always want it to go better towards the end. We played well to start, we just didn’t get the results we wanted at the end.
“Overall, great experience. Definitely can learn a lot from going to a place like that and being around those types of players.”
The challenge for McLellan, and every other head coach around the league, will be to quickly get everyone on the same page for the final seven weeks of the regular season.
The Sharks do have a solid recent history to reflect upon. In the 2013 shortened season they reeled off seven straight wins, and this year San Jose was 9-1-1 in its first 11.
“We really have to keep it simple. You’ll hear 30 coaches say that today,” McLellan said. “Keep the shifts short, execute, a lot like we were at the beginning of the year. We’ve got off to some pretty good starts over the years, and we’d like to see that again out of this break.”