SAN JOSE -- The Sharks didn't exactly ease their way back into their routine Wednesday. In fact, the hourlong opening session of their minicamp was challenging enough that players jokingly darkened the locker room for the quick nap they said they could use.
But if the mood was light, the message being delivered was a serious one.
"Now it's time to get back to work," coach Todd McLellan said, "and today was kind of a wake-up day -- wake the body and make it aware again that it has to go back to the level that it came from 10 days ago."
The Sharks still have another week before their NHL schedule resumes Feb. 27 in Philadelphia. And while four of their top players remain in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, the rest of the team is gearing up for a 23-game stretch run that will feature the return of key forwards to a lineup that somehow has managed to stay within shouting distance of the top of the Pacific Division.
Raffi Torres is expected to play for the first time since tearing up his knee in the preseason. Logan Couture pronounced himself good to go after a 16-game absence as he recovered from hand surgery. Tyler Kennedy will be back after missing five games with a groin pull. Dan Boyle's damaged thumb and Matt Nieto's bruised foot have benefited from time away. All skated on Wednesday.
Couture recognized the importance of the kind of practice he had just gone through.
"I think it was needed," he said. "You need to get back. A good skate and a good sweat -- pretty sure the guys will be sleeping pretty well tonight."
The Sharks were 10-6 without Couture in the lineup and kept pace with the Anaheim Ducks, whom they still trail in the Pacific by seven points with a game in hand. They remain something of a long shot to overcome that gap, but it shouldn't be considered an unattainable goal.
In part that's because San Jose's projected lineup is closer now than at any time this season to the one general manager Doug Wilson thought he was constructing last summer.
In addition to the players coming back, fourth-line agitator Adam Burish was healthy enough to play his first game in the finale before the Olympic break. Oft-injured Marty Havlat also is available. The one significant player still missing is Tomas Hertl. He continues to recover from knee surgery that has sidelined him since Dec. 19.
From Wilson's perspective, Burish's return and the ability to pencil in a fourth line that includes him, Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown has value that goes beyond the limited minutes they may play on some nights.
"Desi, Bur and Brownie to me are the type of fourth line you want -- energy, bite, some speed," Wilson said before the Olympic break. "When you have a fourth line built like that and you have Raffi back in, it changes the whole personality of your team. We want a tough team; we want to go after people."
From McLellan's perspective, the Sharks are at the starting line of the last third of the season.
Going forward, he said, "we want to re-establish our game. I didn't think we played exceptionally well coming into the break. We managed and found ways to win some games. But there are areas of improvement that we have to get to. We have to polish things up, and that's what this week is for."
But he knows it won't happen all at once.
"When we step on the ice in Philly we're not going to be as polished as we need to be, but I don't think anyone will be in the league," the coach said. "That's going to come over time. The key is to be peaking at the right time."
Sharks (37-16-6) at Philadelphia (30-23-6), 4 p.m. CSNCA
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