SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks opened training camp looking to play like the fast, aggressive team that had a strong playoff run last season rather than the plodding one that struggled for much of the lockout-shortened campaign.
The Sharks started Thursday with a very similar look on the roster to the team that ended last season with a Game 7 loss to Los Angeles in the second round of the playoffs. The only newcomer on the top four lines and three defensive pairings on the first day of practice was forward Tyler Kennedy, who was acquired in the off-season from Pittsburgh.
The core of the team led by longtime stalwarts like captain Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle is back for another run in a clear sign that management believes the pieces are in place to get the Sharks over the hump and to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history.
“We were pleased about how we played last year from the deadline on and into the playoffs. The big key for us is to continue that and build upon that,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “The players we have are the ingredients we’re looking for to match up with the system we want to play. We want to play a north-south game, attack people, make them defend, and you’ve got to have players that have that skill set to be able to do that. We’re coming back, and if we’re ready to build on what we did last year, we’re very excited about this team.”
The Sharks return players who accounted for more than 85 per cent of the team’s goals and points last season and almost all the key contributors from that group that won 12 of the final 16 regular season games and swept Vancouver in the opening round.
That success followed a stretch of 17 losses in 23 games that led to a roster re-set by general manager Doug Wilson as he tried to put together a faster team that he hoped could have post-season success.
“We’ve talked a little already in camp about finding that new identity here in the playoffs and now finding a way to just, boom, pick that back up and go,” forward Adam Burish said. “It took six months just to find it, and we found it, so now we know what it is. We found it, we got it, and now after a couple months off, you kick the rust off and let’s go pick up right where we left off.”
The biggest questions for the Sharks to answer during training camp are figuring out line combinations and deciding whether Alex Stalock or Harri Sateri will back up Antti Niemi in goal.
Neither figures to get a lot of time as Niemi has started more than 80 per cent of the games since joining San Jose in 2010-11, including all but five games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
As far as the lines, coach Todd McLellan wants to keep Marleau and Couture together on one line, with Thornton and Brett Burns together on another after their strong success as a pair last season.
The Sharks went to those combinations late last season with TJ Galiardi joining Thornton and Burns and a variety of players teaming up with Marleau and Couture.
Kennedy got the first chance to work with Thornton and Burns, while Raffi Torres teamed with Marleau and Couture after playing well on that line in the post-season before a suspension for an illegal hit on Los Angeles’ Jarret Stoll in Game 1 of the second round ended his season.
“We really stress talk, communicate and that’s how you find each other early on,” Thornton said. “Hopefully, by the first week of October we’ll all know where each other are and be all familiar with each other.”
NOTES: F Marty Havlat was not able to practice with the team after undergoing off-season bilateral pelvic floor reconstruction surgery to repair an injury that sidelined him for all but two playoff games last season. He is skating but there is no timetable for when he can begin practice. “Right now we’re working together with the medical team. We’re doing everything as fast as we can,” he said. … D Brad Stuart also did not practice because of a lower-body injury.