Opening Night Probable Lineup (And Lines)

OK.  Let's see what the probable/possible line combinations are at the start of the season.

Given coach Ron Wilson's penchant for mixing it up on the fly, none of these are carved in stone.  That said, his ability to freewheel is somewhat limited by the fact the Sharks aren't exactly overloaded at left wing.  A touch surprising, since this was apparent going into the now mercifully concluded off-season, that general manager Doug Wilson didn't more aggressively address this.  But it is what it is, so rather than kvetch about what isn't, we focus on who's here.

Patrick Marleau Joe Thornton Jonathan Cheechoo


NHL, welcome to your nightmare.

The move of Marleau to left wing isn't much of a surprise.  Not that he was inept at center, but think about it: second line center... first line left wing playing alongside Joe Thornton and Cheechoo.  I rather doubt he complained much.

Thornton is the best passer and playmaker in the NHL, period.  Impossible to move off the puck, and threads more needles than a seamstress who's paid by the yard sewn.  Cheechoo is a excellent sniper, and with Thornton feeding him the puck he's all the better.  Marleau can be an excellent all-around player in both skills and physical play when he wants to be.  Problem is his penchant for retreating into an overly passive mode characterized by too readily passing the puck while trying to incorporate everyone into the play instead of simply making it himself when the opportunity is presented.  Yes, the captain should try to involve everyone.  But how about some more leadership by playmaking example?

Milan Michalek Torrey Mitchell Devin Setoguchi


Michalek and Setoguchi are snipers who will no doubt have Wilson leaning on them hard to consistently play hard at both ends of the rink along with standing up for themselves.  Mitchell?  He must have something to be stepping straight out of college -- and a year early -- into the NHL.  His scouting reports say good speed, good hands, good work ethic.  This line could possibly become the Sharks "Who" line.  You know... the kids are alright?

Okay, now that I've dated myself most severely, next combo:

Patrick Rissmiller Marcel Goc Mike Grier


Rissmiller doesn't stand out in any given category, but he is competent in all areas of the game and is not afraid to mix it up.  Goc will drive opponent's defensemen to distraction with his nimble footwork.  Grier is a cult hero in San Jose for his all-out attack on every shift as though it was the one that matters the most.

Ryane Clowe Joe Pavelski Steve Bernier


I have a hunch this line is tempted to wear collars to each game considering each member has been in Wilson's doghouse at least once in recent seasons.  Pavelski and Bernier can score, and Clowe brings a physical presence.  This line could generate some positive energy and score a few or more goals.

In reserve: Curtis Brown, whose style is much like Grier's except he plays center; and Jeremy Roenick who might have enough left in the tank for a decent game once in a while.

And then there's the defense:

Craig Rivet Marc-Edouard Vlasic


Christian Ehrhoff Kyle McLaren


Matt Carle Douglas Murray or Rob Davidson


Or something like that.

Rivet is like an umpire in baseball: you notice him only when there's a mistake.  Which is a good thing, since he doesn't make mistakes very often.  Vlasic is a wizened veteran's soul inhabiting a kid's body.  Very seldom is he out of position, and he makes plays with almost frighteningly effortless (at least that's how it looks) ease.  Ehrhoff has to occasionally be reminded he's not a forward, but has improved his overall defensive play and has the speed to upset many an offensive rush.  McLaren's specialty is the big hit, and he usually takes care of the remaining aspects of his duties.  Carle can occasionally look bewildered, but when on his game is smooth and gets the job done.  The sixth spot is up for grabs.  With Alexei Semenov and Brad Norton both on the shelf, it's between Douglas Murray and Rob Davidson.  Murray can pulverize an opponent with his hitting ability, but is hardly fleet of foot and also tends to spend too much time looking for the hit in lieu of manning his station.  Davidson needs to improve all aspects of his game, period.

In net, it's now officially the Evgeni Nabokov show.  Nabokov has the tendency to be streaky.  When he's off, he's wayoff; but when on as he usually is for lengthy stretches he is one of the NHL's better goalies who is more than capable of cleaning up defensive mistakes.  Dimitri Patzold is the backup, having worked his way through the minor league ranks to earn a spot with the big boys.

And there you have it.
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