Aside from San Jose's fourth line and Vancouver's third defense pair (and Roberto Luongo having the night off), the Sharks and Canucks teams that took the ice tonight in preseason action looked remarkably similar to the lineups the clubs are slated to ice when they meet for their 2013-14 regular season opener next Thursday. So to the extent that a preseason game can provide reason for optimism or predict the future, the fact that the Sharks clobbered Vancouver to the tune of a 5-0 final score and 33-24 edge on the shot clock bodes well for their performance a week from now and beyond.
Rookie Tomas Hertl impressed with two goals, one on the redirect of a Scott Hannan point shot and the other from the right faceoff dot following an extended sequence of domination by his line, Antti Niemi pitched a relatively stress-free shutout and the Sharks' top power play unit looked to nearly be in midseason form. But perhaps more significant than any of those things was the play of another young forward looking to make the team out of training camp, one who didn't record a point tonight but stood out for the right reasons all the same.
With Raffi Torres on the shelf for at least the first month of the season, Matt Nieto made a compelling case tonight to be the player who takes his spot in the lineup. Conveniently, he skated alongside Torres' former linemates in Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels and made an impact at both ends of the ice. Whether it was creating a scoring chance by turning veteran Canucks defender Alexander Edler inside-out or getting in the way of a bomb from Yannick Weber (who, by the way, proved tonight that he's decidedly the off-brand Safeway Select cola to Shea Weber's classic coke), Nieto was making a positive impact on seemingly every shift.
It will be interesting to track whether this is something he can repeat on a regular basis against fully-staffed teams when the games start to count (after all, it should be noted the Canucks were playing their second game in as many nights and are presumably still becoming acclimated to John Tortorella's system) but he would certainly make my opening night lineup at third line left wing.
- There are bad games and then there's the one Weber and Andrew Alberts had for the Canucks tonight. With that defense pair on the ice at even-strength, the Sharks attempted 21 shots to Vancouver's 11 while outscoring the Canucks 3-0. Thankfully for Vancouver, neither player is slated to suit up when the blueline is healthy but, if injuries mount up back there, look out.
- Perhaps a glimpse at how the Sharks' "second" line of Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns will be deployed this season: Thornton took five of his eight draws in the offensive zone tonight, and just one in his own end. A five-man unit consisting of that trio, Matt Irwin and Dan Boyle should get plenty of opportunities to do what the Sharks just couldn't do last season: score at even-strength.
- If there was a line that had an off night for San Jose, it was that of Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Tyler Kennedy. Granted, the Sedin twins are always a tough draw to go head-to-head against but even when those three regained possession they had a hard time getting passes to click and advancing the puck up the ice. Hopefully that improves as they gain experience playing together.
- Of course, Kennedy had some terrific individual shifts, usually in the middle of a line change like when he broke away with a burst of speed and hit the post before recovering the puck to set up Dan Boyle's goal. Or when he out-waited Weber on a 2-on-1 with Nieto to create another prime scoring chance.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tomas Hertl
2nd Star: Joe Thornton
3rd Star: Matt Nieto