The San Jose Sharks are on the verge of history as they play hosts to the Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. tonight at HP Pavilion.
A win tonight will give San Jose an 8-2 record – their best start ever after the first 10 games.
“It’s just the first 10 games but it’s nice to get off to a start like that,” Captain Patrick Marleau
said. “You don’t feel the pressure of coming from behind, which can be good or bad. But it’s good to get off to a good start and continue to build on that success.”
“Great starts are huge when you’re looking at playoff positioning at the end,” defenseman Brad Lukowich said. “More than anything, it builds confidence."
But Pittsburgh’s young talents will be a challenge for the Sharks. Right wing Mike Grier said Sidney Crosby’s competitive nature will be make it a tough test for him defensively. He’ll be facing Crosby numerous times tonight – especially on special teams.
“Crosby is extremely dynamic and is one of the best players I’ve seen in a long time.” Grier said. “He never gives up on a play and works extremely hard. When you play against him you have to play your full 40-second shift as hard as you can and try to match his intensity. He’s like Joe (Thornton). He’ll know what will happen a couple of seconds before it actually happens.”
Lukowich said he won’t approach Crosby or fellow center Evgeni Malkin any differently than players on other teams, but said the Sharks will succeed if they stick to the game plan.
“When you have a team like Pittsburgh, you have to have respect for them and know every time they’re on the ice to not make mistakes; or at least limit your mistakes,” Lukowich said. “We want to stick to our game plan and make them change what they’re going to do to how we’re playing.”BACK-TO-BACKS AGAINST LAST YEAR’S FINALISTS
For the first time in club history, the Sharks are facing the previous year’s Stanley Cup Finalists in back-to-back games with the Penguins tonight and the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings Thursday.
“We’re going to get tested these next two games and see where we’re really at,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “We’ve also had a number of tests earlier in the year that we’ve passed: winning cleanly, struggling and having to come from behind on the road, giving up a lot of goals. So we’ve found different ways to be successful.”
Grier sees an advantage in playing the NHL’s best teams early in the season.
“You always want to play against the best teams, especially early, to see where you’re at,” Grier said. “We’ve had a good start but to play two teams like this will give us a really good challenge to see if we’ve got our game together, especially defensively.
“It’ll be a good test to see if we’ve cleaned up a lot of mistakes we’ve been making on our own end.”
Detroit and Pittsburgh’s rosters are different from the ones in last year’s Cup Finals. For instance, winger Marian Hossa joined Pittsburgh at last year’s trading deadline. But during the offseason, he signed with Detroit as a free agent. But each team’s nucleus still exists.
“I think it is a good measuring stick,” Marleau said. “Each has made some moves, but they have a lot of players that were there last year and know what it takes to win. So, it’s a good test for our club.”
Sharks Assistant Coach Todd Richards will be facing a familiar foe tonight.
“I spent two years with the Penguins organization,” Richards said. “I’m guessing their system hasn’t changed too much from last year so there’s a little bit of information and also player tendencies.
“There’s so much scouting nowadays and all the games are on TV. Trent (fellow assistant coach Yawney) did the scouting so we’ll have a pretty in-depth report on Pittsburgh when the game starts.”
Before joining McLellan’s coaching staff, Richards was the head coach of the Wilkes-Baree/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League the past two years. He led the Baby Pens to the Calder Cup Finals last season after winning the AHL’s East Division regular season title.
“I’m not sure there are a lot of secrets no matter where you go,” McLellan said. “There are too many cameras, too much video. The game can only be played so many ways.”
McLellan said there will be a difference in how teams approach smaller details such as face-offs, power play or penalty kill. But as for five-on-five play, there are few differences.
“Todd (Richards) has been able to share some of his knowledge, but again hockey is hockey and your best players have to be your best players,” McLellan said.McGINN DEBUTS TONIGHT
Rookie left wing Jamie McGinn will be making his NHL debut in tonight’s game. The Sharks promoted him yesterday from their AHL affiliate in Worcester.
“I got the call at 11:30 at night on Sunday as I was just about to go to bed,” McGinn said. “I couldn’t sleep for a couple of hours, I had the jitters. This is what I’ve dreamed and worked so hard for.”
The Fergus, Ontario native played in HP Pavilion during the preseason. McGinn said he’ll draw on those experiences to help calm the nerves of appearing in his first NHL game.
“I’ve got in three exhibition games this year so that kind of calms me a bit,” McGinn said. “I know the guys from training camp as I was down here for a month. The guys welcomed me back and are super nice, so that’ll help too.”
The 20-year-old is looking forward to playing with all-stars such as Marleau and Joe Thornton
“It’s insane really,” McGinn said. “You’ve watched these guys growing up and you want to be them. You’ve played in video games with them as the superstar and now you’re in the lineup with them.”
McGinn knows he can learn a lot from the two stars.
“They’re great role models for me,” McGinn said. “There’s a lot of experience here.
“I’m just excited,” he added. “I just want to be ready to play and try and stay up here as long as I can.”