When Michal Handzus was with the Philadelphia Flyers, he had wild hair and looked as if he may have recently escaped from Cell Block D. Cleaned up, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica.
Escaped convict, or professorial intellectual — Handzus brings whatever persona is required to help his team win on the ice.
The dichotomy extends to all facets of his game. In 2009-10, Handzus potted 20 goals and 42 points for a Los Angeles Kings’ team with only one star forward (Anze Kopitar) that required a score-by-committee approach to win games. Somewhat reticent to shoot the puck, he has nonetheless notched 20 or more goals four times in his career. In three other seasons, he tallied 30+ assists, including 38 for a 2003-04 Philadelphia Flyers’ squad that made it to game seven of the conference finals to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Clutch play? Handzus led the referenced Kings team with six game-winning tallies. Playoff heroics? He was tied for second on both the aforementioned Flyers and Kings clubs with five and three goals, respectively. Special teams? Try tops amongst L.A. forwards in shorthanded time in each of the last four seasons, and fifth in power play time over the past three years. He’ll even drop the gloves once in a blue moon, his most notorious opponent being Captain Hipcheck himself, Chris Pronger.
It’s a shade over four minutes long, but a very good montage of Handzus’ career, along with an appropriate soundtrack entitled He is There, can be found below:
San Jose’s two-year, $5 million signing of Handzus this off-season barely registered on the Richter scale when compared to the blockbuster trade for Brent Burns or the somewhat controversial Heatley-for-Havlat swap. And yet, San Jose’s fortunes may rest on the veteran’s steadying presence, clutch play and versatility as much as anyone else not named Marleau or Thornton this year.
The initial game of the 2011-12 season was a microcosm of what Michal Handzus brings to a veteran team.
San Jose played the Phoenix Coyotes in front of 17,562 fans at the HP Pavilion Saturday night. Flanked by Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell on the third line, Handzus posted a stat line that had a little bit of everything going for it: 17:20 ATOI (including 5:38 shorthanded, second on the team), 55.6% on the draw, +1, two blocked shots, two takeaways (one giveaway), and — oh yes — an opportunistic goal: Handzus’ first goal as a Shark.
First game synopsis
The game started out with San Jose shooting out of the gate fast and furious. They took immediate control, at one point leading in shots 9-1, along with scoring the game’s only two goals of the opening period. Joe Pavelski scored the opening goal of the game while on the man advantage, one-timing the Patrick Marleau feed from right in front of Coyote goaltender Mike Smith at 4:01 for the quick 1-0 lead. The Handzus goal came at 8:23 of the period, and at the end of one, the Sharks led 2-0. Shots were an astonishing 19-4 in favor of San Jose.
The second period saw more of the same — much more, as a matter of fact. The Sharks fired 19 more shots on net and tallied four more goals, including another three while on the power play. Ryan Clowe’s backhander from the slot started the onslaught at 7:33, followed by an Andrew Desjardins steal and subsequent breakaway tally exactly one minute later. After a Shane Doan power play goal for Phoenix, Pavelski scored his second of the game, once again on the power play, tipping in a Dan Boyle slap shot from the point for the commanding 5-1 advantage. Less than two minutes later, Desjardins tallied his second of the game, gaining a measure of revenge literally seconds after being tossed like a rag doll into the boards by Martin Hanzal by sneaking the puck home, short side. After two, the game had devolved into a 6-1 romp in favor of the Sharks.
Oliver Ekman-Larssen and Shane Doan scored third period power play goals for the Coyotes, making the score a bit more respectable. In the end, however, the Sharks prevailed 6-3 and showed that for at least one game, they are every bit the team that’s been billed by most pundits as a frontrunner to win the Western conference this season.
Summing up an almost perfect opener was head coach Todd McLelland: “”I thought we had a very good first night, did a lot of things well. Captured the energy in the building and played with it, which I thought was real important, rather than being flat. Power play was good. I thought all four lines contributed.”
Key amongst the many contributors was the escaped convict/professor himself, Michal Handzus. He’ll just keep doing the little things that help a team win, accelerating in clutch time when the big moments just seem to find the blade of his stick. That’s something sorely needed in the land of freeways and microchips.