No Joe Thornton, no Patrick Marleau, no Logan Couture, no Dan Boyle and no Antti Niemi? No problem for the Sharks who edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in their exhibition opener tonight, a game San Jose controlled territorially almost from buzzer to buzzer with a 42-16 edge on the shot clock. A power play goal by Tommy Wingels (the team's first in six opportunities, which included two extended five-on-threes--missing four members of your top unit tends to have that effect) with just under four minutes remaining in the third period broke a 2-2 stalemate and ensured the Sharks an ideal start to the preseason.
With their top two forward lines and top four defensemen all watching from home, the Sharks received standout performances from youngsters Tomas Hertl, Daniil Tarasov and John McCarthy along with veterans Wingels, Joe Pavelski and Andrew Desjardins to feed a decidedly understaffed Canucks squad their lunch. Pavelski, the only impact NHLer in the Sharks lineup, opened the scoring ten minutes in by firing the rebound of a Wingels shot past Canucks netminder Eddie Lack. A mini-brawl involving four forwards slated to be on their respective clubs' fourth lines when these teams meet on opening night in two weeks resulted in penalties for Adam Burish, James Sheppard, Tom Sestito and Dale Weise with extra deuces handed out to the Vancouver agitators. San Jose failed to score on the two-minute 5-on-3, a trend that would persist until the final stages of regulation.
Vancouver tied the game late in the first period as all three members of the Pavelski line got caught behind the opposing goal line, allowing a 3-on-2 to develop that 2012 first rounder Brendan Gaunce cashed in on. Following a dominant first period, the Sharks were slow to start the second but when they generated their first scoring chance of the frame--John McCarthy firing a bouncing puck into Lack on a 2-on-1--the floodgates opened. Matt Tennyson was robbed by Lack after the Vancouver goalie gave up a weak rebound on a Hertl shot. Burish pounced on the rebound of a Sheppard attempt that was created by a Desjardins-forced turnover. And, finally, a wise pinch and centering pass by Scott Hannan of all people set up McCarthy in the slot to give the Sharks the lead.
That lead didn't last for long as "Dog The Bounty" Hunter Shinkaruk (the nickname potential of some of the prospects playing tonight was off the charts) fired a sharp angle shot over Alex Stalock that, to put it lightly, the Sharks' likely backup goaltender would have liked to have back. San Jose controlled play for essentially the remainder of the game, generating chance after chance highlighted by a 3-on-2 that Pavelski turned into a partial Hertl breakaway with a filthy backhand saucer pass. But it wasn't until our old friend Alex Burrows was whistled for roughing with just over four minutes to play that the Sharks finally made the Canucks pay, as Wingels deflected a Pavelski one-timer past third period Canucks goalie Joe Cannata. It's just one preseason game and not worth reading much into but after a sixty-minute contest in which a Sharks team featuring Pavelski and, well, nobody else earned the win while generating 76 shot attempts to 33 by a Canucks squad including Kesler, Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and the franchise's last four first round picks, it's hard not to see this as a fantastic start to the year. Hockey's back, and the Sharks are pretty good at it.
- Of all the prospects auditioned by the Sharks tonight, Tomas Hertl stood out most prominently which was to be expected given the minutes and linemates he received. But Dylan DeMelo, the team's sixth-round pick in 2011, quietly had himself an impressive game as well, moving the puck effectively while leading all Sharks defensemen in even-strength ice time.
- This was an awfully mobile defense in general. Save for Hannan, who ended up having a surprisingly fruitful game offensively nonetheless, and Nick Petrecki, everyone staffing tonight's blueline is more than capable of advancing the puck with their wheels or breakout pass. Jason Demers spearheaded the effort, logging over 25 minutes in all situations and quarterbacking the power play.
- So, that wasn't Alex Stalock's best game by a long shot (a long shot that probably got past him). He stopped just 14 of 16 shots for a .875 save percentage and it's tough not to pin both goals on him; he probably should have displayed better rebound control on the Dale Weise shot that led to the Gaunce marker and the Shinkaruk goal was, frankly, embarrassing. Fortunately for Stalock, it was just one game and there's no conceivable way this jeopardizes his chances at the backup job. But expect Antti Niemi to be ridden hard this year.
- Hertl, Pavelski and Wingels could very well be the best third line the Sharks have started a regular season with since the days of Mike Ricci and Niklas Sundstrom. Their best work was clearly on the power play but they were still dominant at evens, with San Jose notching 18 shot attempts to Vancouver's 5 with Pavelski on the ice 5v5. But one of Pavs' best plays of the night came while making up for a mistake; he showed great hustle to neutralize a Pascal Pelletier breakaway that he inadvertently helped cause.
- Speaking of lines likely to begin the year together, James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish had a rough start to the game but seemed to really pick things up after exiting the penalty box midway through the first. Sheppard destroying Burrows in the corner before setting up a Burish chance off a Canucks turnover was particularly enjoyable. The quality of competition they faced tonight is essentially what they're slated to go up against all year, so their performance in this game certainly bodes well. At least to the extent that any preseason game matters in predicting the future.
- For a guy on a professional tryout, Anthony Stewart didn't get much of a look in game action tonight from Todd McLellan and company. The veteran forward skated just 9:51 with a grab bag of linemates.