The Sharks may not open the season on the road for nine consecutive contests like the New Jersey Devils, but they will be tested on their upcoming four-game trip that begins Thursday night in Edmonton. The Sharks will be the opening opponent for both the Oilers and the Canucks the following night and opening game crowds tend to benefit the home club.
Then it is a trip back to toward the Rocky Mountains to tackle Colorado, with former Shark Scott Hannan, and then up to Chicago to play the revamped Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s not an easy road trip,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “It’s the right kind of timing where we have one day where we don’t have to worry about practice.”
It’s not as if the Sharks are timid on the road, as most of the current squad helped set a franchise record with 26 road victories in 2006-07.
“We’ve been a good road team,” said Wilson. “There is nothing to prove there.”
Many Sharks players are excited about the getting out for a week as they will become more familiar with their teammates.
“I’d rather start on the road all the time,” said blueliner Craig Rivet. “It gives us a chance to get together. It’s about waking up every morning and seeing 20 guys eating breakfast together and going to the rink together.”
“I don’t mind getting on the road with the guys,’ said Joe Thornton.
There are less extra curricular activities floating about as well.
“It takes the pressure off that we put on ourselves in front of our home fans,” said Rivet. “There are less distractions.”Although with several western Canadian players, there will be numerous ticket requests north of the border.
Curtis Brown, Patrick Marleau, Kyle McLaren and Devin Setoguchi all hail from Canada’s western portions and may have to answer a ticket call or two.
“It’s nice for those players to play in front of their families,” said Rivet.
For rookies like Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell and Dimitri Patzold, they will be regularly hanging on the road as NHLers for the first time.
“I definitely remember those times as the best memories,” said Rivet. “It’s a young man living a dream and these guys have worked extremely hard to get here.”
On the ice, the Sharks will once again be wearing targets on their back as a trendy Stanley Cup favorite, so they will rarely see any secondary efforts.
“The key for us is knowing everyone wants to knock us off,” said Wilson. “We’ll get the A team, A systems and A goalie early in the year.”
“It starts tomorrow and for all of us, the goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” said Thornton, pointing out that he agrees with the prognosticators. “I really believe the team is better this year.”
Whether the Sharks start at home or the road, banking points early will be important.
“Last year we had a quick start (winning six of the first seven), so we hope to have another good start,” said Mike Grier. “We want to play well every night.”
Marleau has been on slow and quick starting Sharks clubs and he notes it makes a difference mentally not having to climb a wall all season.
“It’s good for your psyche when you look at the standings,” said Marleau. “One year we played well and everyone else had played three or four more games. Every time we looked up, we were down in the standings. It puts pressure on you if you don’t win early.”
NEW ALTERNATE CAPTAINS
Marleau and Thornton will continue to wear their Captain and Alternate Captain letters, but Rivet and Grier will join wearing an “A” on a rotating basis.
“Just recognizing their leadership qualities,” said Wilson.
CHERRY PICKS SAN JOSE
Many experts are picking the Sharks to win it all and venerable CBC Hockey Night in Canada host Don Cherry right along with them according to an interview with the Globe and Mail.
“I think this is San Jose’s year,” said Cherry to the national Canadian paper.
The Sharks will play Edmonton at 6 p.m. on Thursday with the game available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.