Less than two minutes into the season, it seemed the Sharks were in for another long year.
But an early goal from the Kings turned out to be the lone blemish on a sublime opening night for San Jose, who scored four unanswered goals to run away with a 5-1 road victory on Wednesday night.
Five different players recorded goals for the Sharks, who start the season on a much-needed positive note following an offseason of controversy and change.
New captain Joe Pavelski, who had a goal and two assists, liked what he saw:
“It was awesome. It was fun. There were a lot of storylines coming into the game about how we can move forward as a group now. We went down early and guys didn’t blink. We just stayed with it.”
Peter DeBoer, in his first game as head coach, echoed the captain’s thoughts and could find little to complain about:
“That game tonight was a culmination of a month of hard work. We showed up at camp, really worked and paid attention to detail. Tonight we played like we’re going to have to play, with four lines, six defensemen, great goaltending, and great special teams. It’s nice; just got to keep replicating that game.”
The second period was the pivotal one for the Sharks, up 2-1 but trapped in their own end after a Kings’ power play and extended time in the defensive zone. They fended off nearly three minutes of sustained pressure and, on the ensuing rush, Brent Burns buried a wrist shot from the right point to give the Sharks a two-goal advantage.
Burns spoke about the importance of capitalizing on the counter-attack:
“The guys out there did a good job keeping them to the outside. It’s tough. It was a long shift. They stayed composed and supported each other. It’s always big when a team pours it on and you score quick after that.”
The momentum continued from there, with the Kings taking a quick penalty and the Sharks capitalizing on the ensuing power play. Tomas Hertl, the Sharks’ leading point scorer in the preseason, got on the board with a deflection off a shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and the Sharks took a 4-1 lead into the third period.
Rookie Joonas Donskoi applied the finishing touches with his first career goal early in the third. Joe Pavelski‘s shot on a rebound hit Donskoi’s jersey and bounced in, giving the Sharks a 5-1 advantage.
Like most Sharks-Kings tilts, this one did not end without some fisticuffs. Mike Brown and Kyle Clifford squared off after the early goal by Kings’ forward Nick Shore, which perhaps served as an effective wake-up call for the Sharks, as DeBoer noted:
“It’s a big play by him for us, a big turning point. Not an easy thing to do. The guys respect what he went out and did at a key point in the game.”
Late in the third, Milan Lucic went after Logan Couture near the Sharks bench after Couture hip checked him to the ice. Lucic was given a match penalty and could see further disciplinary action from the league. Couture, meanwhile, sustained a cut on his nose during the altercation.
DeBoer downplayed the incident:
“There were a couple of other plays that were questionable. We’ll see. The league takes care of stuff they need to take care off. If not it’s a heated rivalry and we knew that going in.”
Martin Jones, the former Kings’ backup goaltender, showed well in his debut in goal for the Sharks, stopping 19 shots, not allowing another goal after letting in the very first shot he saw. Jones lauded his teammates for bouncing back:
“It’s not how you want to start a game. I thought we showed a lot of character as a group, not letting that spiral. We could have easily done that but we did a great job coming back.”
“He’s a pretty composed guy. He’s got ice in his veins. On the bench there was no worries at all. I loved our composure as a team. We feed off him. He wasn’t rattled. We weren’t rattled. We just kept sticking to our plan.”
The Sharks were perfect on the penalty kill, fending off all six Kings’ power plays.
In a compelling opening period, San Jose rallied to take the lead into first intermission.
At 9:43, Joe Thornton tied the game with a wrist shot on a 3-on-1 break created by strong defensive zone play by newcomer Paul Martin. Instead of looking for a teammate on the rush, Thornton assertively aimed and pulled the trigger, beating Quick stick-side to tie the game.
Then, just six seconds into a power play later in the period, Pavelski re-directed a Burns shot from the point past Quick’s right shoulder to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead.
Munching on his usual slice of postgame pizza, Burns summed up the team’s feelings after an impressive season debut:
“I think we’re pretty loose as a group. We have a lot of confidence in each other. Obviously it didn’t go well last year, but we’ve moved forward from that. We feel good with our team with each other in here. We played well tonight.”
This is the first time the Sharks have scored five goals in a season opener. … The Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 season openers. … Raffi Torres was handed a 41-game suspension by the NHL for an illegal hit to the head during Sunday’s preseason game. … Vlasic tied Mike Rathje for most games played by a defenseman in franchise history at 671. … Donskoi is the fourth player in Sharks history to score his first NHL goal in a season opener. … Attendance at Staples Center was 18,230, a sellout.