The Sharks opener Saturday night versus the Phoenix Coyotes was a 6-3 win in which many good things happened for the Sharks. At the same time, the Sharks also showed there is some room for improvement. However, with 81 games to go and a team that is not even 100 percent yet, you know the improvements are ahead and this team once it fires on all cylinders will be explosive and tough to stop in the Western Conference. It’s way too early to make any predictions now, but suffice to say Sharks look to be one of the NHL strongest teams in the making…Here are my four observations from my perch via “Centre Ice” from Saturday’s opener and victory…
1) All four lines scored and looked strong from the “get go”. From the opening puck drop and throughout the game, all four Sharks lines attacked the Coyotes in waves. The Sharks narrowly missed scoring on their first shot of the season from Patrick Marleau just 33 seconds into the contest, and you got the feeling this team was ready for battle. The Sharks #1 line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Marleau came up huge and were clearly a bona fide threat through the entire game. Pavelski scored twice, Marleau had two assisted and narrowly missed a third period score thanks to a pad save by Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (to his credit, he made several saves to keep Phoenix in it as well as he could). The Sharks launched 52 shots on goal for the evening.
2) Andrew Desjardins, a one man show in his own right. Desjardins was the number one star of the game for a reason. His two goals (the Sharks 4th and 6th of the game) were the result of absolute presents of mind and hustle, and not giving up on the puck. His first goal was a breakaway after he spotted the Coyotes being just careless enough with the puck at their own blue line. Desjardins picked his moment to wrest the puck and have a one on one breakaway, and was able to nail a wrist shot past M Smith to give the Sharks a 4-0 lead just a moment after Ryan Clowe had scored. This broke the game wide open for the Sharks. His second score game before the end of the second period as he was actually crosschecked, but never lost possession of the puck nor took his eyes off of it. Desjardins got up, puck on stick and moved towards the Phoenix goal and drilled a short shot that went in off M Smith’s leg into the net. Sharks lead 6-1, and the fans got a chance for some Pizza and two toppings (okay maybe one topping)…
3) Thomas Greiss passed his test. For Greiss, this was probably the one thing he dreamed of all of his life. Being the opening night goalie for an NHL club. Greiss did not disapoint. Was he perfect? No, he wasn’t. However he was strong in net and made a good argument as to why be belongs with this club. Greiss made 26 of 29 saves. Of the three goals he gave up, one was a Coyotes 5 on 3 power play in the third period which frankly is a challenge for any goalie no matter who they are. Shane Doan scored two of the three goals, and the first one was also on a power play in the second period with a wicked shot that I don’t know that Antti Neimi gets either (maybe Patrick Roy stops that shot, maybe…it was that good, have to give S Doan total credit there). Greiss’s best save was in the first period when on a Sharks power play Phoenix had a two on one breakaway, with Greiss stopping a point blank tip in try by Kyle Chipchurra. Greiss won’t replace Niemi anytime soon, but he has proven to be a viable option for the Sharks when Niemi needs a day or two off.
4) Penalty Kill….meh, still needs a little work. The penalty kill was not great. Albeit, by the time the Sharks fell into penalty trouble they had leads of 4-0 and 6-1. Because of the large leads, this may get unnoticed by some. For me, it’s a bit of bug-a-boo for this team. Granted, there are 81 more games to play and my personal belief is that this will be corrected soon enough. I am even willing to bet it’s the first thing Coach Todd McLellan talks about when the team gets together. One of the things that Sharks will need if they are to boldly go where no Sharks team has gone before is a top notch penalty kill. Penalties will happen, it’s what you do afterward that matters or in this case how you kill them. I feel once Martin Havlet gets healthy and on board, the team will be close to complete. He can help Brent Burns, Michal Handzus, Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle & Co to help make the Sharks a much better penalty killing unit. Since it’s almost impossible to stay “out of the box”, this will be critical as the season moves forward, especially considering the strong competition that already comprises the Western Conference.
All and all, as they say “Not bad for openers…” The Sharks have two dates with the hated arch rival Ducks coming up (Oct 14th at Anaheim, Oct 17th at the Tank; and St Louis Oct 15th at the Tank). I am confident this team will improve and seek to improve as it builds itself up during this season. Once the Sharks have a full and healthy roster, I feel this will be one of the top three teams in the NHL and have a huge shot at the ultimate prize currently residing in Boston…GO SHARKS!!!
The King Shark