First I'd like to thank the nine readers who joined up for the fantasy league. Draft is Sunday at 10ET, see you there!
Finally. Hockey in Locktober ,err, October.
The Sharks open up the season tomorrow night against the Vancouver Canucks, a team they had some feisty battles with during the pre-season. The Canucks and Sharks are two of the premier teams in the Pacific Division, hopefully it's still called the Pacific Division, with a lot of high expectations moving into the season.
Last year the Sharks were in the top 10 in PP and PK and the hope is that they will remain there again this season. Antti Niemi is back as the starter and has the complete confidence of everyone in the organization after posting numbers that had him in conversation for the Vezina trophy during the shortened campaign.
It's unrealistic to expect Niemi to play 90% of the Sharks games, like he did last year, but it is realistic to expect a workload of about 65 games. Alex Stalock is very highly regarded within the organization and I'm sure the Sharks would like to get a decent look at his skill-set in the NHL.
The defence remains unchanged from last season. Older players aged and younger players developed. The common thread between the two will be consistency. The defence has to keep the consistency of allowing Niemi/Stalock to see the shots that get through to the net. The Sharks #1 netminder was top 3 in shots thrown at him last year, which was in large part to the defenders clearing the lanes when a sure block wasn't available. This group of defenders play smart, simple hockey in their own end. Their play lacks the flash and pizazz of other teams but they are a very low-risk, high-reward defence that routinely gets the job done.
Where the defence will have to improve is their puck moving abilities and that will rest on the shoulders of Irwin, Vlasic and Boyle. If the Sharks want to have more success offensively it has to start with the back end. The D have to move the puck up faster, smarter and smoother to generate chances off the rush and allow the forward group to gain momentum heading into the zone.
The forwards will enjoy some new additions this year with rookie Tomas Hertl and former Penguin Tyler Kennedy. Freddie Hamilton and Matt Neito will also get a crack at the lineup to start the season and Brent Burns will start his first full campaign as a forward in the NHL.
After an excellent pre-season, one in which Hertl looked as good as any Shark, the young Czech player will look to solidify a top-six role at a very early stage in his career. To get a top-six spot on a good hockey team as a rookie is very rare, but the Sharks current roster situation has made that opportunity available to Hertl and he appears to want to seize the moment.
Tyler Kennedy comes over as an energy guy that the Shark were missing. He was, presumably, going to be on the opposite wing of Raffi Torres on a pest line, but with Torres out it looks like Kennedy will have to go it alone. He's a player capable of a 15 goal season, all the while wildly shooting on net from anywhere he deems a good idea. The up-tempo game of the Eastern Conference that Kennedy player in previous to San Jose will provide a new dimension to the Sharks checkers and hopefully that energy spreads like wildfire throughout the team.
Freddie Hamilton, the long-lost brother of Bruins high profile youngster Dougie, will get his first shot as a Shark due to injuries on the club for the opening day roster. He is expected to debut in tomorrow's opener. Hamilton played 76 games for Worcester in the AHL last year, coring 13 goals and 13 assists in his first season out of the Ontario Hockey League. This is a player that, for me, projects to be a poor man's Jordan Staal for the Sharks. I don't expect him to get much more than a few games under his belt before he is returned to Worcester, but it will be good to gauge just where he is in his development.
Matt Neito is another surprise non-cut for the Sharks. The Long Beach, CA native played three seasons at Boston College before being selected in the 2nd round by the Sharks. After his college season last year he joined Worcester for 11 games, recording 2 goals and 4 assists. There is an offensive upside to Neito and I wouldn't be surprised to see him moonlight in the top six for a few shifts while he's the lineup.
Here's what I'm reading about the forward lines for the game against Vancouver.
It looks as though Burish, Havlat and Torres will all miss the start of the season for San Jose, leaving the youngsters to take the reigns on opening night. I'll have a more concrete lineup in tomorrows gameday preview.
So, what can you expect from the Sharks this season? Well, you can expect playoffs to start. I'm predicting they finish 3rd in the Pacific and get the 5th seed in the Western Conference. I'm also putting it out there that Logan Couture will be a point-per-game player this year. You can look for a big season from Pavelski as he looks to prove himself worthy of a top-six role, forcing the hand of Doug Wilson to trade Thornton at the deadline and run with his younger Joe down the middle in the top-six.
Sharks fans, expect another good year of solid defence with an improved year offensively as this team looks to push past that barrier that is known as the Western Conference Finals.
- Hybrid Icing is in effect, so keep your eyes peeled for confused looks from the players and hesitant referee's.
- Fighting is part of hockey. End of debate.
- Did they shrink the goalie pads down to mini-stick hockey size? Last night's three games totaled 26 goals.
- From 4:45-6:45 PT the Sharks will host a pre-game rally out side the SAP Center to kickoff the year. Here are the details straight from sharks.nhl.com if you're in the area:
Festivities will include a performance by Creative Sports BMX stunt team, music and a live DJ from Sound in Motion, giveaways, face painting, slap shot booth and more.
Food will be provided at the rally by Armadillo Willy’s. In addition, a benefit beer booth will be set up with proceeds from the beer sales going to the Sharks Foundation. Corporate partners of the Sharks will also have manned sponsor booths at the rally.
Along with fun and games, there will be a Sharks Merchandise Booth that will include all the latest Sharks gear including the new Next Wave jerseys.
Entertainment plans for the pre-game rally are subject to change, weather permitting. Up to date information will be available at www.sjsharks.com
That's all for now, thanks for reading. Stay icy, Sharks fans.