After one quarter of an NHL season, the Sharks will finally play the first of eight regular season contests against Pacific Division rival Anaheim. In some ways, it is the most anticipated match up of the first quarter of the season.
Still, even with a win, the Sharks can only move within one point of the division lead and with a lost, there will still be plenty of hockey left to catch up.
“It’s November and it really is just another game on the schedule,” said Mike Grier. “We have eight games against them. You can’t put too much into one game.”
“We have to play them eight times and it is going to be a battle all year,” said Head Coach Ron Wilson.
And the Sharks know that Anaheim is not the only team to watch out fro in the own division as the Dallas Stars are in the division race as well.
“I think everyone knows the race will be tight with all three teams,” said Grier.
Hockey fans across North America took note of Anaheim acquiring Chris Pronger to form the potent one-two defensive punch with Scott Niedermayer, but the Ducks are not just a defensive minded club.
“They get scoring from everywhere on all the lines and are a good skating team,” said Grier.
“The game will be a measuring stick for where we are and what we need to work on,” said Wilson. “It is one of the biggest of the year in with NHL with them first and us third in the NHL standings. For any hockey fan, it has to be the biggest match up of the year.”
If fans think the regular season games will be a treat, they can only dream of a playoff matchup.
“The playoffs are where rivals are born,” said Grier.
San Jose and Anaheim may sit atop the Western Conference now, but Wilson harkens back to his coaching days with the Ducks and knows that was not always the case.
“Ten years ago, who would have thought we’d be battling for the top,” questioned Wilson.
Not only are the teams a strong matchup, but all eyes will be on the defensive and forward match ups. It can be argued that Anaheim has the top two defensemen in the NHL with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, but a case can also be made that the Sharks have the two best centers in the west.
“Seeing their twin towers on defense and our forwards will be fun,” said Wilson.
The Sharks should have a full complement of players available, expect for Jonathan Cheechoo, who is still recovering from a lower body injury.
“Everyone, except Cheech,” said Wilson. “We’ll have to spread it around and not use it as an excuse.”
Ducks fans will likely enjoy Cheechoo’s absence as he posted three hat tricks against Anaheim last season.
“He scored a lot against Anaheim and L.A. last year so someone else will have to answer the bell,” said Wilson.
FIRST TO FIFTEEN
Though the Ducks are first place in the West with 33 points (14-2-5), the Sharks are leading the West in wins with 15. Only the Buffalo Sabres (16-3-1) have more points and more wins than Anaheim and San Jose.
The line of Teemu Selanne, Chris Kunitz and Andy McDonald combined for 13 points in win over Phoenix on Nov. 19 . . . With five assists vs. Phoenix, Selanne set a career high and tied the club record for assists and points in a game. It was the first five-assist game in the NHL since Robert Lange (Detroit, 11/26/05) . . . Kunitz recorded his first career hat trick in win over Phoenix.
Ron Wilson’s granddaughter will be watching her first NHL game and that should be a good omen for Sharks fans.
“We’re 4-1 since she was born,” said Wilson.
The Anaheim contest will be televised at 7 p.m. on FSN Bay Area and can be heard on 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. San Jose will return to HP Pavilion on Wednesday night for a home contest with Los Angeles. A limited amount of tickets are still available via the HP Pavilion Box Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The Kings contest will be aired at 7:30 p.m. on FSN Bay Area and on 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.