For the first time in seven seasons, the Sharks lost their home opener, with a 5-3 win from Philadelphia.
Arguably, the biggest storylines coming into tonight’s game - aside from the start of the season - came down to three threads: How would the number two draft pick Nolan Patrick do in his first NHL game? Would Joe Thornton be at full strength after his knee injury in the spring? And what would the Sharks lineup look like without Patrick Marleau?
Before the puck drop at center ice, Marc-Edouard Vlasic took Marleau’s spot in the pre-game skate out. While it was strange not to see number 12 skate out last, Vlasic seemed to be comfortable in the new position.
The first period saw a flurry of action with Joe Pavelski snapping off a shot in the first minute, but without the conversion. With five rookies on their lineup, Philly used that energy to press hard, and Nolan Patrick’s first shot in the NHL was off a 2-on-1 rush caused by an unfortunate turnover by Brenden Dillon and blocked by Martin Jones. That youthful enthusiasm couldn’t be contained long though - the Flyers scored two goals in three minutes. Captain Claude Giroux converted at 8:28 with an assist by Jake Voracek. Jordan Weal followed suit at 11:16 with a wrist shot on the man advantage, leaving the score 2-0 halfway through the first period. Ouch.
However, all hope was not lost. The Sharks rallied in spectacular fashion in the final minutes of the first. Kevin Labanc scored his first goal of the season off a backhand shot at 17:17 with the assists from Brenden Dillon and Joe Pavelski. Thanks for the assist, Cap.
The Sharks then picked up a power play with 1:51 to go off a hooking call on Brandon Manning. Labanc scored his second of the night at 19:41 with a beautiful wrist shot that would have made Patty proud. We had hope that the Sharks had made some improvements on the power play strategy over the off-season.
Sharks started the second period with a power play from Hagg’s tripping call, but they couldn’t convert on the man advantage. Labanc wasn’t ready to go to the teller just yet, apparently. Jones did his best imitation of a belly flop when he blocked Couturier’s shot at 11:26; he seemed more confident in front of the goal during the second.
All was quiet on the ice for the first 14 minutes aside from the Superman-like save from Jones. By 17 minutes in, the Sharks had 22 shots and only 12 for the Flyers. No sign was to be had of Nolan Patrick; maybe it was past his bedtime?
At 2:32, Labanc took a slashing penalty, which set up a power play that Wayne Simmonds scored on. 3-2 Flyers. It seemed as if Labanc had put the Sharks in debt.
The third period started off chippy and criss-crossing the ice. Konecny was called for hooking, having sent Dylan DeMelo awkwardly into the boards. DeMelo managed to skate off but didn’t make an appearance again in the game. Thornton, however, while putting in time on the ice, had apparently had enough of quietly skating by. He and Burns worked their bearded dynamic duo magic and set up Couture with a beauty of a goal at 3:12 on the power play. Burns tallied his 500th career point in the NHL off the assist and Jumbo had racked up over 13 minutes of ice time by that point in the game. It seems that Jumbo is back and in good form after a summer of recovery.
The Flyers answered Couture’s goal with one of their own. Simmonds tipped one in behind Jones at 9:27 on a man advantage from Labanc’s penalty (his third of the night), making it 4-3 Flyers with under 10 to go. Things became tense as the clock ticked down and the Flyers pressed hard on another power play.
However, the game seemed to perk up when the Sharks pulled Jones for an extra man on the ice. The energy shifted though when Radko Gudas fouled Labanc, slamming him into the boards, and rattling not only Labanc but the rest of the team on the ice. With Gudas and Pavelski off and Jones out of net, it was 5-on-4 for the Sharks in the final minute of the third. No hat trick was to be had for Labanc, though. That honor would go to Simmonds, who scored with 36 seconds left in the game on a breakaway, leaving the final score at 5-3.
So what of the questions we started the game with? Nolan Patrick had a few good shots on goal, but was mostly quiet in his NHL debut. We’ll be curious to see when he gets his sea legs under him. Thornton seemed to be in good form, putting up an assist and 14-plus minutes on the ice. Taking the summer to do recovery after his knee injury seems to have done a world of good for the 38-year old forward heading into his 20th season. However, with Marleau absent from the lineup, tonight demonstrated that work still needs to be done on special teams and shutting down opposing power plays.
The Sharks will play the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center on Saturday, October 7th, at 7:30pm Pacific.