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Sharks following GM's orders perfectly

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE -- A strong preseason doesn't guarantee wins once the real games begin, but undefeated is undefeated, and the Sharks appear to have heard general manager Doug Wilson's demand for a fast start this season loud and clear.

The Sharks improved to 5-0 Thursday with a 3-0 victory at HP Pavilion against the Vancouver Canucks, the team that beat them last season in the Western Conference Finals. They have one preseason game to go, Saturday at Phoenix. After that, they'll have six more days to fine-tune their revamped roster before opening the season Oct. 8 at home against the Coyotes.

For Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, that season-opener can't come soon enough.

"We really wanted to stress this year on having a good start, and I think we've shown it so far in the preseason. Now we're ready to go. We're not going to have a slow start like we did last year."
-- Jason Demers

"We really wanted to stress this year on having a good start, and I think we've shown it so far in the preseason," Demers said. "Now we're ready to go. We're not going to have a slow start like we did last year. I think we have the personnel and the guys out there to do it. It was a good team effort tonight. Just one more game, then it's starting for real."

After 45 games last season, the Sharks were a disappointing 21-19-5. They had lost six straight games by a combined score of 19-8 and were sinking in the Western Conference playoff chase.

At that point the Sharks seemingly flipped the switch and won nine of their next 10 games. They went 23-6-3 over their final 32 games, won the Pacific Division and finished with 105 points, second only to Vancouver's 117 in the West.

It was an impressive run to the finish line, but Wilson said having to play in desperation mode for so long hurt the Sharks in the postseason because they were a tired, battered bunch by the time they faced Vancouver in the conference finals.

"It was talked about over the summer, and it was talked about early in camp, but it's not something that's stressed every day," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We go out to win every hockey game. The first two years I was here we had great starts. Last year we didn't. It is what it is.

"We're out to win every game every night. Sometimes what you do early can help you out. We are going to go on a stretch where we lose some games. That's inevitable (but) that's what a strong start does -- it kind of balances it out. You always look to finish strong, too, but yeah, it (starting strong) has been talked about."

The Sharks certainly aren't coasting to the preseason finish line. They had most of their top offensive and defensive players on the ice Thursday.

Defenseman Brent Burns, the Sharks' marquee offseason acquisition, continued to skate with Marc Edouard-Vlasic in the defense second pair, behind the top duo of Boyle and Douglas Murray. Demers was paired with veteran Jim Vandermeer, a free-agent addition who played for Edmonton last season.

"Tonight we saw a bit more of our team and used guys a little bit more than we have in the past," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "The defensive part of the game I'm happy with. We continue to play pretty solid, we're not giving up any chances. Goaltenders are doing what they're supposed to do. I'm happy with that. I didn't think we skated as well as we could early in the game. We looked a little sluggish, legs a little bit heavy, a little warm in the building, and that can improve."

Goaltender Antti Niemi has yet to appear in a preseason game after having a cyst removed from an undisclosed body part before camp began. But backup Thomas Greiss, who played last season in Sweden, improved to 4-0 in the preseason with his first shutout. If Niemi isn't ready for the opener, McLellan is confident Greiss will be strong in net for the Sharks.

"I feel comfortable with him for the whole year if we have to use him," McLellan said. "He's done a tremendous job, looks comfortable in the net. Guys are playing well around him in our zone, and that needs to continue."

Martin Havlat
Right Wing - SJS
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 40 | PTS: 62
SOG: 229 | +/-: -10
The Sharks haven't been able to incorporate all of their new pieces into the puzzle. Right-wing Martin Havlat, acquired from Minnesota in the Dany Heatley deal, still is recovering from shoulder surgery and hasn't appeared in a preseason game. Havlat, who led Minnesota in goals (22) and points (62) last season, has practiced with his new team but hasn't been cleared for full contact. Once he's healthy, he's expected to skate on the second line, with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe.

Joe Pavelski, meanwhile, is adjusting to life as the right wing on the top line, skating with center Joe Thornton and left wing Patrick Marleau; last season Pavelski centered the third line. Pavelski scored a power-play goal in the second period Thursday -- his first goal of the preseason -- with assists from Thornton and Marleau. Thornton and Marleau assisted on Boyle's even-strength goal in the third.

"The way the system is, last year I was playing center and ended up at the wing at times," Pavelski said. "The first guy back usually takes the low guy, then the guys fill out. So I got a little exposure on the wing in those situations. Played it a little bit, but not much. You just kind of adjust and play. You don't want to look into it too much, because otherwise it can maybe eat you up. If you think you have to stay on the right side all the time, that's not how it is."

The battles for the final roster spots "will be competitive right to the bitter end" of preseason, McLellan said. Forward Tommy Wingels, who had 33 points in 69 games for AHL Worcester last season, appears to have played his way onto the roster, although nothing's official.

"I thought he had another very good night," McLellan said of Wingels after Thursday's game. "He used his speed to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He was able to go from one line to another and quickly adapt. We tried to test him in that area and he passed."

Forward Jamie McGinn, who has struggled at times in preseason, had what McLellan said was his best game, for reasons that go far beyond the goal he scored.

"He played to a menu that he has to," McLellan said. "He was rugged, created turnovers on the forecheck, solid in his own end, penalty kill. He's a big man that can be involved on a nightly basis if he wants to be. It was good to see him respond."

Thornton said it was good to see the Sharks keep winning, even if it was just a preseason game.

"It's nice," he said. "You get the guys having a little bit of confidence. It doesn't matter if it's preseason or summer hockey. It gives the guys some confidence, and hopefully we can roll with the next game, get the win."

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