Let's be honest, this game was never going to end any other way. As if the hockey gods scripted it to purposely needle the Sharks for failing to close out last spring's playoff series, San Jose's regular season-opening win over Los Angeles was a synthesis of everything that went wrong for them against the Kings in April going right, one game too late.
After posting a gruesome .884 playoff SV%, goaltender Antti Niemi was perfect tonight in stopping all 34 shots he faced, including a gorgeous sprawling save on a Jeff Carter wraparound attempt. After going scoreless in seven games, a microcosm of the Sharks' overall scoring depth issues, Tommy Wingels was the team's most productive forward, beating Jonathan Quick from an impossible angle in the first period then breaking away from Drew Doughty for a highlight-reel tally in the second. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was in the lineup instead of nursing an injury from a dirty Jarret Stoll hit and made a huge impact with a power play assist and a 75% 5-on-5 possession rate in over 20 minutes of ice time.
And, cruelest of all, the Sharks took a 3-0 lead on the Kings then proceeded to extend that lead with a fourth goal rather than withering away. If they'd managed to have any of these things swing in their favor five months ago it might have been the Sharks raising a Stanley Cup banner to the rafters tonight rather than Los Angeles. But it wasn't and they'll have to settle for crashing the Kings' party, chasing Jonathan Quick from the net and shutting out the Los Angeles offense. Which, all things considered, is a pretty damn awesome way to start a season.
- New looks on both power play units as Marc-Edouard Vlasic assumed the departed Dan Boyle's role on the top configuration with Tomas Hertl swapping in for Patrick Marleau as well. Marleau, Logan Couture, Matt Nieto, Mirco Mueller and Jason Demers comprised the second unit. They did convert one of four attempts courtesy a Marleau deflection but neither unit looked all that dangerous moving the puck around. It'll be interesting to see if the coaching staff does eventually go back to loading up with Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Couture and Burns on the top unit.
- Wingels was obviously terrific, scoring the prettiest goal of his NHL career and showing a lot of leadership to shoulder the burden while playing with two inexperienced linemates, but his center Chris Tierney deserves credit for a very good big league debut. It was Tierney driving the center lane and drawing a Kings defenseman with him in the process that created the confusion that led to Wingels' first goal and Tierney was using his speed and smarts to generate chances galore in the first period. That waned a bit as the game went along and McLellan used him rather sparsely but it looks like the kid could be an important player for the Sharks this season.
- Speaking of NHL debuts, Mirco Mueller looked surprisingly comfortable for a 19-year-old kid thrust into top-four minutes against the defending Stanley Cup champions. As mentioned above, he received regular power play time and distributed the puck well in those minutes in addition to holding his own in net-front battles and post-whistle scrums. It still isn't quite a given that Mueller will stick around past his 9-game tryout but eight more games like this one would probably seal the deal.
- Matt Nieto's goal courtesy a Jonathan Quick puckhandling fiasco coming just minutes after Todd McLellan told a NBCSN sideline reporter the Sharks were trying to avoid allowing Quick to handle the puck was pretty amusing.
- It was a staple of the Sharks' offensive-zone forecheck all of last season so it's nothing new but I love how aggressive the team's strong-side defensemen were in pinching to the half-wall and preventing Kings wingers from exiting their defensive zone cleanly.
- I guess you're not supposed to complain after wins like this one but I'm great at complaining so I'll point out that Scott Hannan and Jason Demers were a bit of a tire fire as the Sharks' third pairing. With Hannan on the ice in particular, the Sharks were out-attempted 25-11 at even-strength despite that pair being largely deployed against the Kings' lesser lights. Perhaps it's just re-arranging deck chairs given the state of the Sharks' defensive depth but it wouldn't hurt to give Matt Irwin a try in Hannan's spot on Saturday.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tommy Wingels
2nd Star: Antti Niemi
3rd Star: Patrick Marleau