SAN JOSE — For the first time since June, Sharks hockey returned to the SAP Center on Tuesday night. Well...sort of.
The Shark head did not make an appearance, as the players took the ice with a sole spotlight shining on them instead. Nor did the majority of the lineup from when the Sharks last took the ice. Four of those players helped Canada to a win in the final at the World Cup of Hockey, while two just returned from that tournament.
So, only four players that suited up on this same rink in San Jose’s Game 6 loss to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup did the same in the preseason-opening win against Vancouver. As a result, Sharks forward Tommy Wingels wore an ‘A’ as one of three alternate captains in a lineup light on experience.
“You look around this room, and tonight I was one of the veterans,” Wingels said. “It’s a different feeling, but ultimately you strap up the helmet and go to work.
With so many missing faces, the Sharks dominated possession, albeit against a team that is missing its own fair share of important players. The Sharks needed every minute of regulation to tie the game, but just 1:05 of overtime for Kevin Labanc to win it.
“We didn’t get rewarded for [our start], but I liked how we played,” head coach Pete DeBoer said. “We stuck with it all night.”
There were plenty of veteran contributions, as few as those veterans were. Wingels scored the game-tying goal with just 22.6 seconds left. Chris Tierney and David Schlemko picked up the assists, and Schlemko again assisted on the game-winner, along with Matt Nieto.
But it was Labanc, who scored 127 points in 65 games with the OHL’s Barrie Colts last season yet has played all of one AHL game, who perhaps contributed most. In addition to scoring the winner, he assisted on Barclay Goodrow’s second period goal.
“When he’s on the ice, offense is getting created. That’s something everybody’s looking for,” DeBoer said.
That may be an understatement. With Labanc on the ice, the Sharks controlled 93.75% of all shot attempts, and all of the unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal. Of course, that also came with all of Labanc’s shifts starting in the offensive zone, but DeBoer sounded pretty pleased with Labanc’s performance.
“We’re going to keep working on rounding out his game, and where he has to work on that, that’s yet to be determined,” DeBoer said. “But it was a good start for him.”
DeBoer was also happy with a lot of his players’ starts, including Tommy Wingels. But as one of the few players that finished the postseason and opened the preseason, Wingels knows that “one good night” is just the beginning.
“We talked it about it as a team: these are the first bricks that we lay for this season,” Wingels said.
“We’re anxious to get back to where we were last year, but you can’t just get there immediately. You’ve got to work your way there.”