SAN JOSE — The Sharks began their practice Friday with a simple one-on-one battle drill. One player possesses the puck facing the boards, the other tries to take it away.
Tomas Hertl drew the unenviable task of trying to steal the puck from Joe Thornton. Hertl did all he could, using his considerable 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame to try to outmuscle the taller but similarly heavy Thornton.
Hertl didn’t have much luck.
“He’s strong. It’s not easy playing against him, a big guy,” Hertl said. “I’m a big guy too, but he’s even bigger than me. He looks strong. I think he’s ready to play and he can’t wait for that first game.”
Now five months removed from major knee surgery, Thornton, 38, was once again a full participant in an up-tempo practice at Sharks Ice. He appears, at least, to be on track to play in Wednesday’s season-opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at SAP Center.
While there remains no issue about whether Thornton can possess the puck in tight circles, he still has to see how the knee might react in a game situation and where he his from a conditioning standpoint.
That’ll likely happen either Saturday against Arizona at home or Sunday on the road against Vegas. Thornton, who has yet to play in a preseason game, hopes to see just to see where he’s at physically after both the anterior and medial collateral ligaments were repaired in his left knee in late April.
“You can practice all you want, but that first game is definitely different with your lungs and how busy it is out there,” Thornton said. “Just excited to get it going again.”
Physically, there isn’t much keeping Thornton from suiting up for at least one of the Sharks’ last two preseason games.
“Just me probably,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “He would have played probably a week ago.”
“He looks the same,” DeBoer later added. “We’ve to get him in some game situations for me to tell you he looks 100 percent back to where he was. But he looks good.”
Thornton said he thinks about the knee only occasionally. His morning routine now includes time to warm up his quadriceps to take a bit of pressure off the surgically repaired.
“I feel good. I rehabbed all summer, but the mind feels good, the body feels good,” Thornton said. “Excited to start the grind all over again.”
• DeBoer said Thursday and Friday have been maintenance days for Pavelski, 33, who is unlikely to play Saturday. DeBoer said the game against the Coyotes will be close to a full dress rehearsal with most, but not all of the regulars suiting up.
On Pavelski, DeBoer said, “He’s a guy we want to make sure is fresh and ready to go. We know what he can do, so I don’t need to see him out there tomorrow.”
• Joel Ward had 14 minutes of ice time Thursday against Anaheim in his first preseason game. Ward, 36, is coming off offseason shoulder surgery.
“He looked good,” DeBoer said. “He got better as the game went on. It looked like his first game early, and then I thought as the game went on, he got better.”
• Rookie defenseman Radim Simek, perhaps San Jose’s most notable offseason acquisition, led the Sharks in ice time Thursday against Anaheim with 22:07. Simek, 25, will likely start the season in the AHL with the Barracuda but he’s had his moments in camp and has done enough to play in at least one more preseason game.
Simek, who signed with the Sharks out of the Czech League in May, doesn’t have a point in three preseason games but hasn’t been shy about trying to take chances.
“I like that when he makes mistakes, he makes them being aggressive,” DeBoer said. “He’s got to find that line now where you’re aggressive in the right spots. Not all the time. You can’t teach that, that aggressiveness and we like that.”
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