Here we go, folks.
This time, it counts. As fun as it was whooping the Anaheim Ducks in the preseason, doing it when there are points on the line is so much better. Finally, hockey is back — really back.
The Sharks had a less than ideal preseason. The kids won the first two with ease (against the Ducks, thank you very much) but they dropped four in a row after that, even after working in most of their veteran roster. It’s safe to say a 2-3-1 record and a four-game losing streak would not go over well during the regular season.
But the Sharks had plenty of kinks to be working out. Joe Thornton was making his return and Erik Karlsson and Antti Suomela were making their debut. The forward group lost Chris Tierney, Jannik Hansen, Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker while the defense lost Paul Martin and Dylan DeMelo. And Evander Kane is ultimately still kind of finding his footing.
The Ducks were in a similar position during the preseason. They were rebuilding a roster during the preseason, hoping any of the fill-in players from last year could be ready for the big time. They lost the first three games before winning the final three, including two against the Los Angeles Kings.
The biggest obstacle this Ducks roster is facing is injury. Patrick Eaves was ready to finally make his return after missing a year, he’s going to miss opening night thanks to a shoulder injury. Ben Gibbons is on injured reserve with a swollen hand. Ondrej Kase is out with a concussion. Ryan Kesler is still out with a hip injury, as is Kalle Kossila. Corey Perry is out for most of the season with a torn meniscus and damaged MCL. Kevin Roy has an upper body injury. Korbinian Holzer is recovering from wrist surgery. Not to mention that Nick Ritchie is still holding out due to contract negotiations.
The season hasn’t even started and the Ducks are down and out.
Baby, now we got bad blood
The Ducks don’t like the Sharks too much in the best of situations, but now the kids have a pretty recent memory of being swept in the preseason, while the veterans have a not-as-recent memory of being swept in the post-season. Injured or not, they’re going to play like they have something to prove and that’s scary in two ways.
First, there’s the obvious motivational edge. They’ll channel that need to prove themselves against this team into scoring chances. But the opposite end of that is channeling that energy into something a little more dangerous, which is beating up on the guys they can’t beat on the scoreboard.
The Sharks need to be able to keep a level head and not get baited into dumb penalties or dangerous play.
Bank points early
It can’t be understated how important it is to get standing points now, while teams are still doing that last bit of tinkering. Sure, points should always be important, but the same way anticipating the worst while planning a wedding makes dealing with those situations easier when they inevitably happen, banking points early on means that down the line, losing points won’t cause an extra layer of stress, especially when everyone will be fighting for points come February.
Getting to take two points away from a division rival early on? Even better.
Who will be on the top line — and will they stay there?
In the Sharks’ final preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights, we got a glimpse of what the Sharks’ finalized roster will look like, but Pete DeBoer was still playing around with line combinations. In the previous game against Calgary, he swapped Timo Meier onto the top line with the Joes, bumping Evander Kane further down the line up and that’s where they stayed put for the final game.
The plan had always been to slot Kane onto the top line once Joe Thornton returned and I anticipate that’s where he’ll start this game, as well. But Timo was skating with the Joes again during yesterday’s practice. And there’s always a possibility DeBoer hits his line blender panic button and mixes things up.
Bold Prediction: Kevin Labanc scores hat trick, with all three goals assisted by Erik Karlsson.
Check back later for line combinations and the new and improved gamethread and liveblog. In the meantime, drop your own bold prediction below!