VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Manny Malhotra skated by himself on Wednesday morning wearing a tracksuit and a full cage attached to his helmet. The veteran center has been sidelined by a severe eye injury since mid-March when he was struck in the eye by a puck.
There is no timetable for his return to Vancouver's lineup.
Ideally Vancouver would have Malhotra on the ice helping the playoff push; instead, the Canucks' coaching staff has been using his expertise off the ice. According to Associate Coach Rick Bowness, Malhotra has helped bridge the gap between the players and coaches.
"We don't always go in the room, (the message) can't always come from us, it has to come from within the room," Bowness said. "When it comes from within the room, it's got to be the right man, the right voice and the right tone that the words are being passed along to the players and Manny knows that.
"He knows when to get excited, and when to calm them down. That's the feel you have to have with your team and Manny has that."
Malhotra led the Canucks in faceoff percentage during the regular season at 61.7 per cent, and was second in the NHL to David Steckel. His abilities in the faceoff circle were especially crucial on defensive zone draws on the penalty kill. Bowness said Wednesday that the Canucks still rely on Malhotra's PK knowledge.
"Manny, as we all know, is a great leader, has a great rapport with all his teammates and a great rapport with the coaching staff," Bowness continued. "For instance, I told Manny the other night in Nashville, I said you go talk to the forwards about the PK stuff we want to stay on top of.
"We use him; he's getting involved because he has that rapport and he has that respect from the players and he's involved in all the meetings."
His expertise in the faceoff circle has come in handy for the likes of Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre.
"We talk a lot about different things and he gives us small details that we can work on against different guys and it's good," Sedin said. "He looks at a lot of games from upstairs and watches TV – a lot of times it's easy to see things from the side than it is when you're actually playing."
Added Lapierre: "He helps me a lot on the faceoffs. He talks to me, he analyzes every other centerman in the league. He helps me try to change little things or tells me to keep doing the right thing. He's been a big help to every player on this team so far. If I'm off my technique he would tell me ‘you're going too far' or ‘you're too tight' – he's talking to me a lot and he's helping me a lot."
An offseason free-agent signing, Malhotra was reaching for a loose puck in the team's 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche when the puck deflected off his stick and struck him in the left eye. Malhotra underwent two procedures on the eye, and soon after the team confirmed he would be lost for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
The fact that Malhotra looks physically fine to his teammates is what makes it all the more difficult to see him sitting on the sidelines.
"It's tough because I mean his eye is looking a lot better too," Sedin said. "You don't really see what's wrong and he wants to be out there. It's tough to see him sit on the side."
Added Lapierre: "It's a big loss for us; we cannot hide from that. We wish we had him in the lineup -- obviously we can't, but he's been pretty solid. What he's going through is pretty tough, we're all with him and that's why we got such a good team spirit."