SAN JOSE (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear last week when he came to the Bay Area to promote San Jose’s upcoming outdoor game: It is no accident that the Sharks are opening the season against the Los Angeles Kings.
Less than six months after becoming just the fourth NHL team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games, the Sharks will be there when the team that beat them raises its second Stanley Cup banner in three seasons.
Whether it brings back raw emotions from a playoff collapse or serves as motivation for the upcoming season, the Sharks know they will have to deal with it Wednesday night.
“It’s a big night for that organization obviously and hopefully we can kind of spoil the little party that they’re going to have there,” forward Logan Couture said.
General manager Doug Wilson said he welcomes the opportunity to open the season against the defending champions on their big night of celebration.
But the team plans to be in its dressing room when the banner is raised after pregame warmups, seeing no reason to watch the ceremony they know they could have prevented with better play last spring.
“It’s not our party. It’s theirs,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We’ll be getting ready to play.”
Forward Joe Pavelski acknowledges there will be plenty of distractions Wednesday night, with memories of last season’s collapse hard to avoid with the Kings as the opponent and the banner-raising ceremony.
Dealing with those will be the key to success.
“We’ve got to find a way to put those aside because as hard as it is to say it’s in the past, it is and you’ve got to move forward at some point,” Pavelski said. “It’s one of those things where we want to change it as bad as we can, but we can’t and you have to accept that. There’s two big points. You’ve got to fight through the distractions and we’re going to have to play a tight team game.”
After a summer filled with talk of “rebuilding” and fixing what is wrong with an organization that has made the playoffs for 10 straight seasons but has never reached the Stanley Cup finals, the Sharks are excited once again to be playing games.
There are still many questions, most notably who will serve as captain and alternates after Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau got stripped of their letters over the summer. McLellan is not ready to make any announcement on that front and has said the team may even rotate the letters.
McLellan also will not reveal his starting goalie as incumbent Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock will share the duties more evenly this season after Niemi got the bulk of the starts his first four seasons in San Jose.
While most of the same core that lost to the Kings is still in place, the Sharks have gotten younger the past six months. Rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller and Chris Tierney are expected to play key roles Wednesday night and youngster Tye McGinn also is expected to start on the third line.
Rookie forward Barclay Goodrow will miss the first few games after hurting his hand blocking a shot but also will be counted on to contribute early.
“We provided them the opportunity, they came in and they earned the spots on this team that we said we would provide for them,” Wilson said. “They’ve made the team on performance. That’s the way it should be.”