Sharks host rival Kings to open season
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks renew their territorial and recent playoff rivalry Wednesday to open the 2016-17 NHL season.
For the Sharks, it's the first step in defense of their first Western Conference title while the Kings hope to spoil the home opener against the team that ended their season during a five-game first-round playoff series last spring.
"We're going to have a little bit of a target on our back, especially in the Western Conference having won it last year," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "And we're going to get everyone's best game."
San Jose hopes to start off on the right foot at the Shark Tank where the team was only 18-20-3 last season. And the only game Los Angeles won in the playoffs last season came in San Jose.
"We were really exposed in the playoffs," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi told NHL.com. "I also think we had some mental issues in terms of having dealt with success, and a good punch in the nose like we got in the playoffs hopefully woke us all up."
The game will mark the San Jose debut of two newcomers -- left winger Mikkel Boedker and defenseman David Schlemko, who each signed four-year contracts on the first day of free agency. Boedker joins center Logan Couture and right winger Joonas Donskoi on the team's second forward line while Schlemko will partner with Brenden Dillon to give the Sharks a mobile defense.
"It's impressive what we were able to do this summer -- keep everyone, add a couple key pieces -- I think that's good for chemistry," Sharks defenseman Justin Braun said.
For the record, San Jose did have three departures, all of whom were not part of their long-term plans. Forward Nick Spaling, defenseman Roman Polak and goalie James Reimer, all acquired at the trade deadline, moved on while 38-year-old Dainius Zubrus contemplates retirement.
Conversely, the Sharks have a number of young players knocking on the door to give the franchise the best depth it's enjoyed in its 26th season. Twenty-year-old Timo Meier, the ninth pick in 2015, looked to crack the deep group of forwards until he was diagnosed with mononucleosis late last month. He must avoid contact for approximately three more weeks, and will start his pro career with the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League.
In addition, Swedish winger Marcus Sorensen, 24, was a free-agent signing in the offseason, and he'll start in the minors, too, despite showing flashes of skill and speed in the preseason.
For now, Tomas Hertl will return to left wing alongside top-liners Joe Thornton and captain Joe Pavelski. Chris Tierney will center Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward on a third line and it some combination of Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto, Melker Karlsson and Micheal Haley will comprise a fourth group.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Braun form San Jose's top shutdown pair on defense while veteran Paul Martin returns to support the creativity of partner Brent Burns, a Norris Trophy finalists with a franchise blue line record 27 goals and 75 points last season.
"You need quality players who are willing to accept roles in the depth of your lineup, and take pride in those roles," DeBoer said. "The one team that was deeper than us was the team that beat us -- Pittsburgh."
The Kings will feature a new look on their top line, the result of departure, suspension and injury. Newly anointed captain Anze Kopitar will center stripped captain Dustin Brown and Devin Setoguchi, who survived a tryout invite to camp to make the team and resurrect a career that got sidetracked due to substance abuse.
"I'm excited for him," Kings coach Darryl Sutter told the team's website of the one-time Shark. "I like to see guys like that bounce back. ... For me, it was no different evaluating him than it was players that we needed to be better than they were last year."
Los Angeles is without scoring winger Marian Gaborik, who sustained a broken foot during the World Cup of Hockey tournament. Forward Tanner Pearson is suspended for the first two regular-season games for a preseason infraction, and winger Milan Lucic left the team via free agency.
The Kings figure to line up Teddy Purcell-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli, Dwight King-Nic Dowd-Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford-Andy Andreoff-Jordan Nolan up front with Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty, Brayden McNabb-Alec Martinez, Derek Forbort-Matt Greene as the defense pairs.
Jonathan Quick will tend the Los Angeles net with former King Martin Jones in goal for San Jose.