Well, folks. The moment is upon us very, very soon. I would lay money on the fact that Chris Stewart will be playing on Friday night against the Wild (looks like I'd lose that bet as Dater is reporting it will be after they get back from the road). He practiced with the team - sans orange jersey and with full contact. He looked strong and happy to be there. He'll need one more full practice, given the way the organization tends to operate, but I doubt it will be longer than that before he returns. Cody McLeod was doing some skating before the other guys got out there. He seemed fine, no hitch in his stride. To my surprise, he also fully participated in the practice, contact drills and all. We might see him on Friday, too. Decisions, decisions are looming over Joe Sacco's head... Neither Kevin Shattenkirk nor Kyle Cumiskey were out there. I wonder if Cumiskey's progress isn't going as well as they thought.
Some of my other observations and notes from the practice after the jump.
- First guys out today: (1) Peter Budaj, (2) Craig Anderson, (3) Philippe Dupuis
- In the open warm up before practice, Matt Duchene was getting some one-on-one with Sylvain Lefebvre.
- McLeod spent some time throwing fake punches at Stewart, grabbing his jersey and giving him some uppercuts. I heard him saying, "Dude, leave the fighting to me from now on!" (That last part was my interpretation of what Cody was saying based on no evidence at all that he actually said that...)
- The whole team seemed in a very jovial mood. Lots of smiling and joking around, even Jonas Holos. I think that monkey climed off his back last night. Overall, there was a lightness in the air, and it was so nice. This is the first practice to which I've been after a big win. I think I'll do this more often.
- Geez, Matt Hunwick is small! John-Michael Liles seemed to fill more space than him.
- But then seeing Liles next to Ryan O'Byrne...well, let's just say that O'Byrne doesn't help hide the fact that Liles' bio stats about his height are not quite accurate.
- The first time the guys took a knee, Sacco was giving out some news that got stick taps from guys. Happened twice, one right after the other. I suspect it was regarding McLeod and Stewart's impending return.
- The first drill out was working the transition game. 3 forwards, 4 D-man (2 each net). The forwards would switch from offense to defense when the play went back the other way. Lots of focus on cycling the puck effectively and efficiently.
- Budaj was making some really nice glove saves today. Andy, on the other hand, was letting in some soft goals and really didn't seem too upset about it like he would be in the past. I'm not sure how much goalies relax during practice, but I don't think Andy was even close to giving it a lot of energy and focus.
- Lefabvre took over the next drill: Power Play v. Penalty Kill (hallelujah!)
- As Sly was talking to the guys, Sacco skated over to the other side of the ice and was looking at who was in the stands. Checking to see if there were scouts or something, coach? Odd.
- It was clear from the start of the PP/PK drill that the PK motto was aggressive forechecking. For some units, it worked. For others, not so much. I had a hard time figuring out which I wanted to see happen: a nice set up with cycling in the zone from the PPers or total disruption from the PKers. This is how things turned out:
- 1st PP unit: Liles, Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk
- Paired PK unit: Adam Foote, Greg Mauldin, Philippe Dupuis, and Ryan Wilson
- The PP won every time. They set up shop and cycled the puck without a whole lot of opposition. Liles always played point, usually Fleischmann did as well but sometimes Duchene went to the line; they looked great...but then remember, they were facing our PK.
- The PK looked slow and ineffective although Dupuis stood out in a good way. They did get better as the drill went on, clogging up lanes and keeping the play to the outside. The PP could still set up, but didn't have much room to do anything.
- 2nd PP unit: Brandon Yip, Stewart, Kevin Porter, David Jones, Hunwick, Holos, TJ Galiardi, McLeod with Holos switching with Porter and Gali switching with McLeod and Stewart
- Paired PK unit: Ryan O'Reilly, O'Byrne, David Koci, Daniel Winnik
- On this side of the ice, the PK won most of the time. They kept the PP unit to the outside, got in passing lanes, poke checked the puck into the neutral zone. The only time it did well was when Holos and Gali were in.
- Holos did a good job of keeping the puck in the zone and even had this one monster of a play where he hustled over to the puck and stopped it with his skate, got a stick on it and passed it across to Hunwick.
- Hunwick never switched out. He did, however, get some specific instruction by Sly...which he failed to use the next time that type of play came up and alas, the PKer on his point poke the puck out of the zone easily. I will say this, though: Hunwick has a nice point shot, but he hesitates for the perfect lane instead of passing sometimes. He had a nice set up to Holos who was clear to take the shot, but he chose to dangle the puck - looking for his shot - which was promptly cleared from the zone. The guy just doesn't seem to be making good choices, even in practice. I'm hoping that keeping him out there like that was to give him more learning opportunities and not that he'll be favored over Holos on the point next game.
So there you have it. The best news is that Stewart will most likely be back
on Friday after the road trip. All hail the CGDS!