It was a long strange home opener for the Sharks at HP Pavilion, but in the end, it was two points thanks to a 5-4 overtime victory against the visiting St. Louis Blues.
The game featured a strange 18 minute delay due to Jonathan Cheechoo’s skate going through the boards and St. Louis forcing the extra time by banking a late tally off Scott Hannan with five seconds remaining. San Jose also had to overcome a first goal by St. Louis in the game’s first 30 seconds.
“I don’t know what to say about the start, but the finish was good,” said Sharks center and reigning League MVP Joe Thornton
. “We picked up where we left off after the delay.”
The Blues were the underdog, but brought their A-game.
“They played tough and their D was great,” said Thornton. “We didn’t forecheck enough on their D.”
TOSKALA OVERCOMES START
Despite the early tally, Vesa Toskala rebounded nicely to earn the win.
“It is always tough with an early goal,” said Toskala. “It was a weird game. The puck was bouncing weird, but we got better as the game went on. It is hard to get back in the game when they score so fast.”
“He looked nervous at first and I was surprised,” said Head Coach Ron Wilson. “He settled down and was fine. It was his first opening night.”
Toskala didn’t fret when St. Louis forced overtime with the quirky goal.
“It hit on our D and went in,” said Toskala. “There is really nothing you can do. It was bad luck.”
The Sharks know that sometimes opening at home can be difficult due to expectations.
“You look around the league and most of the home teams or favorites struggled,” said Wilson. “We tried passes we don’t try in practice.”
WELCOME TO THE TANK
Two new roster players for the 2006-07 campaign played large roles for Team Teal. Mark Bell scored his first goal while dawning a Sharks jersey, giving the Sharks a late third period lead.
“I figured I would get a couple of empty netters with great players like Cheech (Jonathan Cheechoo) and Joe (Thornton),” said Bell. “It was great to hear the crowd.”
Bell may not have anticipated such a nice pass from the NHL’s leading goal scorer from a year ago in Cheechoo.
“He made a nice fake and slid it over,” said Bell.
Then Bell knocked it home before Manny Legace, who had anticipated a Cheechoo shot, could slide over.
Curtis Brown finished off the night by giving San Jose the two points in overtime. In the offensive zone, he outworked a Blues defender for the puck and then picked up the loose change on a Matt Carle shot.
“(Steve) Bernier did a nice job to pass it out to Matt (Carle) and I was able to poke the rebound in,” said Brown.
And he appreciated the crowd roar as well.
“San Jose has great fans and it was fantastic to hear them,” said Brown. “I’ll do my best, but I hope everybody’s not waiting around for that every night.”
Brown was obviously joking, but he knows that depth will be a key for San Jose this season.
“Everyone needs to chip in throughout the year,” said Brown.
“I’m happy the newer guys contributed,” said Wilson. “It was a good way to welcome them to the family.”
MICHALEK STAYS HOT
Milan Michalek led the NHL with seven preseason goals and after one contest, he joined several others who scored twice in their opening contest. His best move came on a play where he pulled the puck behind him and got a shot off, but couldn’t beat Legace.
“I’m feeling confident and hope everything continues,” said Michalek. “The most important thing is to be confident.”
San Jose employed the tactic they tested in the preseason of placing five forwards on the power play. It worked to the tune of two goals.
“It is quite a bit of firepower,” said Wilson. “I would be remissed if I didn’t have all our guns on the ice. All the guys can fire the puck. I hope we have a lot of five-on-threes. There are still snipers on the bench to throw out there.”
On the flip side, the Sharks new penalty killing units killed off 1:43 of five-on-three time for St. Louis.
“Those guys did a great job tonight,” said Marleau. “We score on the other end, but it was huge that they killed that off.”
And on the five-on-three, the last line of defense stood his ground.
“Toskala stood on his head on the five-on-three,” said Sharks Goaltending Coach Warren Strelow. “He made the big saves when he had to.”
San Jose will return to HP Pavilion Saturday night for a match with the New York Islanders in a 7:30 p.m. faceoff. The game will be available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com and tickets can still be purchased at the HP Pavilion Box Office and at www.ticketmaster.com.