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Sharks' fast start typical, but fresh energy abounds

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- That the San Jose Sharks are still perfect this season at 4-0-0 isn't all that different from what they're used to in the Silicon Valley.

The Sharks, who face the New York Islanders on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, have a reputation for being fast starters. They even have proof in the form of an NHL record they set this season. San Jose became the first team to start a season with three consecutive wins in four straight seasons.

What is different is how the Sharks feel about their hot start this season as opposed to, say, last season, when they were 4-0-1 out of the gate but couldn't build on it and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in a decade.

"There has just been a good energy, a different energy," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said Friday, when San Jose beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in a shootout at Prudential Center. "You can feel it. You can feel it through the fans and the players. Last year was tough at times, just up and down, a rollercoaster ride, but we have confidence.

"Last year we found a lot of ways to lose, but now it's about getting that winning feeling back. That's part of the energy."

The energy might be natural considering the Sharks' failures last season led to an overhaul of the entire coaching staff and some of the team.

Peter DeBoer replaced Todd McLellan, who was the Sharks coach for seven seasons with a record for 311-163-66. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson acquired goalie Martin Jones in a trade and signed a pair of veterans in forward Joel Ward and defenseman Paul Martin.

Jones is the Sharks' No. 1 goalie and he's allowed two goals on 110 shots. He already has a shutout streak of 234:33 this season. That's out of the 245 minutes the Sharks have played.

"He's been our MVP thus far," forward Tommy Wingels said.

Ward is playing on San Jose's second line and already has three assists, including one on Patrick Marleau's goal Friday. Martin is playing on San Jose's top defense pair with Brent Burns and is averaging 22:52 of ice time per game, second on the team behind Burns (25:50).

"We got a new dressing room, new coaches, and with that it's like school, you want to do well," Burns said. "You want to show guys that you worked hard all summer. Guys have been good coming in with fresh energy and a great attitude going into the rink."

Burns, though, refuses to believe that missing the playoffs has served to raise the Sharks' intensity level this season. He similarly will not say the Sharks are more motivated because they didn't live up to their expectations last season.

"To get to this level there's been so much [stuff] in your life and so much hard work that if you're not motivated to win every game … I mean, playing mini sticks with my 5-year-old, I want to win, I ain't giving him any freebies," Burns said. "I don't really like when guys say, 'Ah, we didn't really work tonight.' You might have [stunk], but when you put on your gear you're working and you want to win. Sometimes [stuff] happens and things don't go well. Last year was a year that didn't go well, but to say we're more motivated, I don't think so. We maybe made changes to our system that fit our guys really well and have us loving coming to the rink."

OK, but it's not as if DeBoer has changed too much, save for tweaks to the forecheck and defensive zone coverage. It's also not as if the makeup of the Sharks roster is drastically different this season than it was last season minus Jones, Ward and Martin.

Sixteen of the 20 players DeBoer dressed Friday were with the team last season.

So why do players who've been around San Jose for a while feel so different now than they did last season?

"I think it's just the ability to reset," DeBoer said. "This group was going to respond regardless. They have that type of character, so that was going to be there no matter what. We just reinforced the idea that everybody has a clean slate, this is a new year, a reset and a little bit of a new voice.

"Todd is a [heck] of a coach and this is a well-coached group, but seven years with one voice sometimes is a lot too. I've been there. Three or four years is a lot with groups in the NHL. That's all we've provided."

It's led to four straight wins to start the season. That's not really surprising for the Sharks. It's what they're used to, what they always do, except the feeling this time around is just different.

How that feeling manifests through the course of the season might determine how good the Sharks can be and how far they can go.

"I think last year, we started off well, but for whatever reason the elite confidence that we can be one of the best teams in the League lagged," Wingels said. "I can't tell you why that was, but that confidence is back within this room, no doubt."


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