SAN JOSE – For the first few minutes of their season opener at SAP Center against the Kings on Wednesday night, the Sharks looked very much like they were coming off of a short summer and an odd training camp in which five of their most important players didn’t even skate with the team until the first week of October due to the World Cup.
For the rest of the game, though, they more closely resembled the group that played until the middle of last June.
On the strength of a Logan Couture power play goal, a tiebreaking score from Brent Burns, and steady goaltending from Martin Jones, the Sharks began their long quest to try and return to the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win over the Kings. San Jose shook off some early mishaps and got contributions from up and down the lineup in starting the season on a positive note.
“We felt pretty good,” Burns said. “We have to clean up a lot, but you win, so it’s good.”
In a drastic change from last year’s home opener when no one knew which direction the team was headed and seats were left vacant, the crowd arrived early and was at a playoff-decibel level, aided by a laser show, mini-Western Conference Champions banner giveaway, and light-up wristbands that dotted the arena.
The crowd was more focused from the outset than the team it came to cheer on, though. Some sloppy defensive zone play resulted in a Couture tripping minor, and Tyler Toffoli capitalized with perfectly placed wrist shot just 1:22 into the game.
The final half of the first period was all Sharks, though, and they tied it up on Couture’s humming wrister on the power play at 14:05. The second period was less eventful as the teams felt each other out, but then in the third Burns got the game-winner at 3:20 on a loose puck in the slot.
“That was a man's game out there. It was physical, it was hard,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “[The Kings] came ready to play and to try and send a message that the playoffs last year wasn't something that they were happy about. I thought our guys responded.
“The first 10 minutes we were standing [and] watching a little bit, but then we got going and I liked our game the rest of the way."
Couture’s line, with newcomer Mikkel Boedker and improving second-year forward Joonas Donskoi, was the Sharks’ best of the night, and helped generate the game-winning goal. They combined for 19 of the Sharks’ 53 shot attempts, more than any other line.
Coming off of his standout playoff performance in which he led the NHL with 30 points in 24 games, Couture is looking forward to getting more and more chemistry with his linemates on what would seem to be a fast, skilled and creative trio that already looks dangerous.
“They skate well with the puck, see the ice well,” Couture said of his wingers. “I think we’re only going to get better as a line, so a lot of positives from tonight.”
The other lines were also solid, including a newly constructed fourth line of Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson and Matt Nieto. In fact, the top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl was arguably the Sharks’ least effective through two periods.
Just like most nights last season, DeBoer rolled all of his lines and three defense pairs for nearly the duration, regardless of matchups.
“That's something we've been continuing [to try] and build. That's a big part of our game,” DeBoer said. “With the World Cup – and we’ve got some guys that are getting a little bit older – we need that four-line depth to be able to roll guys out there.
“It's nice as a coach not worrying about matchups. I don't have any fear if somebody gets stuck out there against [Anze] Kopitar or [Jeff] Carter, they're getting the job done."
Jones quietly made 21 saves in net, although he was rarely tested. His best save came early in the second period on Kyle Clifford breezing up the wing, when the goalie snagged Clifford’s wrist shot from the circle as the forward came barreling towards the net.
It was an encouraging performance from everyone, and by the end of the night the team had caught up with the fans as far as being in midseason form.
“It was a treat for us to be out there,” Burns said. “The energy, the noise. It was great.”