Fear the Five: 5 games you can’t miss

Bitter rivals, and a sweet reunion.

It’s finally that time of year — San Jose Sharks hockey is so close, you can practically taste it. San Jose fans have plenty to be excited about this year, from the rejuvenated health of Erik Karlsson, to a newly minted captain in Logan Couture.

But with a full 82 games ahead, the regular season isn’t only a grind for players, but for fans as well; planning to watch that many games requires a serious time commitment that some supporters, as much as they’d like to, simply can’t make.  Whether you follow the team casually, refuse to miss a minute of the season, or fall somewhere in between, there are some games that all Sharks fans should have circled on their metaphorical calendars — here are the top five.

5. Sharks at Avalanche, January 16, 6 p.m. PST

The Colorado Avalanche are an incredibly fun to watch young team. They have one of the league’s most electrifying players in young superstar Nathan Mackinnon, and dynamic complementary talents like Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar. Despite seeing their post-season end at the hands of the Sharks last year, they’ve only improved since then — both in terms of their young core coming more into their collective prime, and through the personnel moves they’ve made in the off-season, highlighted by the addition of former Shark Joonas Donskoi in free agency.

Although they don’t share a bitter rivalry with the Sharks, they do share the Western Conference, and Nathan Mackinnon and company will prove to be stiff competition in Denver’s raucous Pepsi Center with a critical two points up for grabs.

4. Blues at Sharks, December 21, 7:30 p.m. PST

Still riding the high of winning the first Stanley Cup in their team’s history, it’s unlikely the St. Louis Blues harbor much animus for any team they played in last year’s postseason. The same can’t be said for the Sharks, who will be looking to avenge their elimination at the hands of last year’s champions as they visit the SAP Center.

However, San Jose is fueled by more than resentment over a simple playoff elimination — it’s how they were eliminated that’ll have Sharks players fired up. As a result of the hyper-physical play of the Blues (including a number of headshots that went unpenalized and saw no supplemental discipline) several Sharks players, including Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Erik Karlsson, unable to finish the series. It’s hard to imagine San Jose has forgotten; look for this to be an intense matchup.

3. Golden Knights at Sharks, October 4, 7:30 p.m. PST

The second of back-to-back meetings of the NHL’s hottest new rivalry doubles as the Sharks’ home opener, an event that is worth marking the calendar for on its own, particularly since the Sharks will be formally introducing their new captain (and alternate captains) for the first time. While it’s hard to imagine this game being the type of nationally discussed spectacle the season-opening clash looks to be, there’s clearly no love lost between these clubs, and with how valuable wins within the division are, especially between two teams that are projected to be jostling for playoff position late in the year, it’s safe to expect an ugly, volatile game.

2. Stars at Sharks, January 11, 7:30 p.m. PST

On January 11, 2020, Joe Pavelski will skate out onto the ice at the SAP Center for the first time since the conclusion of the Sharks’ 2019 Stanley Cup playoff run in Dallas Stars victory green and white. It’ll be an incredibly emotional affair for all involved, as the long-time franchise centerpiece returns to the city he spent the first 13 years of his career playing in. Pavelski will undoubtedly get a moving tribute and standing ovation from the fans who watched him grow up on the ice — from an undersized, unheralded seventh-round pick, to captaining the Sharks to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final. Expect tears in the stands — and potentially some on the ice.

1. Sharks at Golden Knights, October 2, 7:30 p.m. PST

It couldn’t be any other game.

Not even the suspension of regular pot-stirrer Evander Kane could derail the unparalleled aura of excitement surrounding the long-awaited Sharks and Golden Knights rematch. The Golden Knights spent the entire off-season reliving the humiliation of their Game 7 collapse against their first real rival, hearing the name of their club most often mentioned as the butt of jokes. With multiple locker room leaders making off-season comments about how the second-ever playoff run in the history of their franchise ended, it’s clear that the wounds are still fresh in the desert, and on the eve of the NHL’s return, in a nationally televised game, the Golden Knights will be looking to publicly exercise their demons and make a statement to the entire hockey world. Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena will be electric, with both players and fans getting their first crack at the Sharks team that ended their 2019 playoff dreams.

That being said, the Sharks will be looking to make a statement of their own. After losing their captain and leading goal scorer to free agency, along with quality complimentary pieces Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist, San Jose has been spoken of as a team in decline, a label that can’t sit well with the players, particularly fiery new captain Logan Couture, playing his first game wearing the ‘C.’ Get your popcorn ready — this is sure to be a good one.