LOS ANGELES -– In hindsight, this one felt a smidge bigger than just another regular season opener.
Right, Tommy Wingels?
“It absolutely was. It’s been a long summer thinking about this game,” said Wingels, who scored a pair of highlight reel goals in leading the Sharks to a 4-0 win over Los Angeles on Wednesday night. “When the schedule did come out and this was our first game, the media loved it, the fans loved it, but us players loved it, too.”
They’ll love it even more on the flight back to the Bay Area. The Sharks won every facet of the game against their rivals, and after a bizarre offseason, can finally start to move forward with their hockey lives.
According to Joe Thornton, the Sharks didn’t watch the pregame ceremony that was taking place about 30 yards from their dressing room. They didn’t see the Stanley Cup slowly lowered from the rafters to center ice. The didn't witness Dustin Brown lift the silver chalice to the sky, or the 2013-14 Stanley Cup banner rise to the top of the capacious arena.
Instead, the Sharks were “just hanging out, watching games. Relaxing,” Thornton said.
They knew the start would be key, and they got on top when Wingels fired the puck on net from an impossible angle and it somehow got through Jonathan Quick less than six minutes into the game, and shortly after they killed off a Patrick Marleau interference minor.
“If they got the lead and the energy built…it was important for us to score first, and try to build on that,” Todd McLellan said.
The Sharks blew the game open in the second period, but not before goalie Antti Niemi made the best of his 34 saves. The goaltender did the splits to rob Jeff Carter, who looked poised to deposit a wraparound goal two minutes into the middle frame with San Jose holding a 1-0 lead.
The ultimate result of the game may have been more important to Niemi than anyone other single Sharks player, after his miserable first round against the Kings and uneven 2013-14 campaign. He wasn't tested too often, but he was there when the team needed him.
“I think we played a really good game,” Niemi said. “We didn’t give too much and we were able to get a couple goals in the second.”
Along with Wingels’ second goal on a breakaway, when he faked Quick out of his boots, the Sharks got a Marleau power play marker and a Matt Nieto score after Marleau pressured Quick into a turnover behind the net.
The Kings were deflated after Nieto’s goal made it 4-0, and there wasn’t much action in the third period, which was just fine for San Jose.
As much as the Sharks were pleased with their own game, they probably knew that the emotion of the night’s festivities contributed to Los Angeles’ lackluster performance.
“They are probably a little bit distracted tonight with what all went on, but it’s nice to come in here and win,” Thornton said.
McLellan said: “Obviously it’s a tough night for them to play, but it’s not an easy night for us, either.”
The Sharks are well aware they’ll have to face last season's debacle over and over again, as all five of their match-ups with the Kings will be broadcast nationally, including February’s outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium.
For at least one night, they seemed to have a chip on their shoulder because of it.
It’s only one game, but it’s still a good sign and a perfect start to a season which could go any number of directions.
“I think the whole team who were here (last year) are more hungry,” Niemi said. “We really want to do the details right this time.”
Wingels said: “We were ready to go at the puck drop and sustained it throughout the game. It was a good first 60 minutes.”