Blackhawks at Sharks Preview: Celebrating Doug Wilson with a win?

Someone will come out with their first win of the season, who will it be?

The San Jose Sharks go right back to work after defending the Tank in last night’s home opener. This time, they will host the Chicago Blackhawks, marking the first of three match-ups against Chicago. The big event before puck drop will, of course, be Doug Wilson’s banner night.

San Jose has a real test tonight. Both teams are still winless, as the Sharks are 0-3-0 and Chicago is 0-2-0. It could certainly shape up to be a spirited game as both seek to earn those first two points.

Chicago had a very eventful off-season. After departing with a mixture of veterans, up-and-coming stars and members of the front office, the team entered a fully-fledged re-build. Debrincat was sent to the Ottawa Senators on the first day of the 2022 NHL Draft in exchange for three picks, including the Senators’ 11th-overall selection. Kirby Dach, the former third-overall draft pick, was sent to the Montreal Canadiens for the 13th and 66th overall picks.

Adding further to the strong tide of change, long-time fixtures like broadcaster Eddy Olczyk and front-office member Scotty Bowman stepped aside, all of which feels like an extension of the slow-burning fallout from the organization’s horrendous handling of sexual assault allegations from 2010.

The team made several veteran roster additions to shore up their loses. Those of note include forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi, and goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock. However, the Blackhawks are not expected to compete for a playoff spot this season, and many have guessed the team could finish as far down as last place in the league.

Thus far, the group has lost 5-2 to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche, and 1-0 to the Vegas Golden Knights. Former Sharks netminder Alex Stalock played very well in the loss to Vegas, and it is possible that he gets the nod from head coach Luke Richardson.

Can the Sharks score more than two goals?

It’s been clear from these first three games that the Sharks have not found their scoring touch yet. This was the team’s biggest issue last season, as they finished third-worst in the league in goals per game. So far this season, they have scored just four goals in three games. There have been offensive flashes of life from new faces like Luke Kunin and Evgeny Svechnikov, but the new depth has not yet been enough. Timo Meier, last season’s goal leader, is still looking for his first of the year.

The forward group needs to show that it can have multiple shifts in a row in the offensive zone, sustaining pressure and generating quality chances. We have seen bits and pieces of it so far, but nothing sustainable.

As with last night’s game, head coach David Quinn will likely make some adjustments to get a spark going. If forward Alexander Barabanov can make it back into the line-up, he might help rejuvenate the likes of Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier on the top line.

Can Kahkonen steal a game?

If one thing is clear, it’s that goaltending has not been the reason for the Sharks’ woes so far. James Reimer kept last night’s game close, and at moments looked unbeatable, even when Carolina began to find their footing.

We can expect Kaapo Kahkonen his share of the net in tonight’s game. The flanky Finn made an appearance against the Nashville Predators in the Prague Global Series, but gave up three goals on 18 shots against.

In his young career thus far, Kahkonen has showed potential in the crease as a member of the Minnesota Wild and with the Sharks to end last season. The starting job is up for grabs, and Kahkonen can make a really strong impression on home ice against Chicago. Earning the team’s first win, even if it’s against a team that isn’t expected to go far this year, would be a great way for him to make his first case for himself as the 1A/starter.

What did Doug Wilson mean to San Jose?

Tonight’s result won’t answer this, but it’s worth a brief look at Doug Wilson’s history with the Sharks on the night they honor him. Wilson, in the twilight of his playing career in the NHL, was the first captain of the Sharks in team history and part of the inaugural team. In all, he played only 86 games in the Bay Area, with the rest being as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks between 1977 and 1991.

Tonight will also be about Wilson’s contributions to the team as general manager from 2003 to 2022. Wilson was at the helm of the most successful period in franchise history. Sharks legends such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Pavelski all spent their prime playing for the Sharks during his period in the front office. His tenure as GM in San Jose is the second-longest in NHL history, only following Nashville’s David Poille.

Wilson’s 2015-16 team was the first to go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, which is still the furthest the club has made it in the postseason. So much of the current roster still has his stamp on it. Nearly the entire remaining core — Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Logan Couture — were all drafted by Wilson. He was also known to make big splashes in the NHL trade market, acquiring superstars such as Dany Heatley, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

Not many former GMs get a ceremony from their teams, but Wilson’s era in San Jose was truly remarkable. This banner night is well-deserved, and hopefully can motivate the team to get a win in his honor.

Bold prediction: San Jose has an offensive explosion against a weaker Chicago team. Timo Meier gets his first goal of the year, and Kaapo Kahkonen is counted on to make some key stops to lead the Sharks to a 5-2 victory.