UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders are 3-0-0, their best start in 13 years. But their three opponents have a combined total of one victory this season. That's why a visit from the unbeaten San Jose Sharks on Thursday figures to be a good barometer of the Islanders' improvement.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson kept the core of the team that couldn't hold a 3-0 series lead and lost to the Los Angeles Kings last season in the Western Conference First Round. The Sharks, playing the second of a six-game road trip, have shown no ill effects from their playoff disappointment; they are 3-0-0, with shutout victories against the Kings and Winnipeg Jets before opening their trip with a 6-5 shootout victory against the Washington Capitals.
"This team has made a few changes but they're still the San Jose Sharks," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after the morning skate. "We know they're big, they're fast, they're physical. Their back end transitions as well as any team in the League. This will be a really good test for our hockey team [Thursday]."
The Islanders' fast start has been fueled by several of the newcomers brought in by GM Garth Snow during the offseason. The biggest impact has been the addition of defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins less than a week before opening day. Boychuk has two goals and leads all NHL defensemen with six points.
"It's been going pretty well," Boychuk said. "Any time you win three in a row it's a good way to start the season."
Boychuk also feels the Sharks will be a good gauge of where the Islanders stand.
"They have a good team over there," he said. "We have to be prepared. It's another good test for us because they have one of the best teams in the League, if not the best."
Capuano will stick with Jaroslav Halak in goal; Halak made 40 saves in a 6-3 road victory against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. The Sharks will go with Alex Stalock, who shut out Winnipeg last Saturday, after Antti Niemi played in the win at Washington.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he is pleased with the his team's ability to bounce back after the way last season ended.
"Our start is bigger than the record itself," he said. "Our start was training camp. The media and the hockey world will talk about the record, but it started a month ago now, or more, when we had to come back, put the pieces together and get the commitment level back to where it needed to be, which wasn't a difficult task. Our guys did a really good job in managing themselves, preparing for the season.
"The 3-0 record is the result of being prepared and playing 45-50 good minutes a night. It's the other 10 [minutes] that we're concerned about. And while we fix that we'd like to continue to win."
Here are the projected lineups:
Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Tomas Hertl
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
Tommy Wingels - Chris Tierney - Tye McGinn
Adam Burish - Andrew Desjardins - John Scott
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Mirco Mueller - Brent Burns
Jason Demers – Matt Irwin
Scratched: Scott Hannan
Injured: Tyler Kennedy (upper body), James Sheppard (knee), Mike Brown (upper body), Raffi Torres (knee)
Cory Conacher - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Nikolay Kulemin
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Thomas Hickey - Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Brian Strait - Calvin de Haan
Scratched: Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton
Injured: Michael Grabner (lower body), Lubomir Visnovsky (back) Matt Carkner (back)
Status report: Fast starts are nothing new for the Sharks, who were 7-0-0 to begin the 2012-13 season and 6-0-0 at the start of last season. … The Sharks are making their last visit to Nassau Coliseum; the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn next season. San Jose is 7-6-2 all-time on Long Island, including 7-1-1 in their previous nine visits. … De Haan, who has yet to play this season, will take the place of Griffin Reinhart, who was sent to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League after the morning skate. Visnovsky will make the trip to Pittsburgh for a game Saturday, is expected to take part in a full practice Monday and could be ready to return after that.
Who's hot: Wingels leads the Sharks with three goals; he, Marleau and Burns share the team lead with four points. … Two of the five players who share the NHL scoring lead with seven points are Islanders; Tavares (two goals, five assists) and Nelson (four goals, three assists). Nelson has goals in each of New York's first three games. ... Halak has won his first two starts as an Islander.