SAN JOSE – Let the games begin (even if rosters are full of several players that won’t see NHL action after final cuts).
The Sharks open their preseason slate on Monday in Vancouver, taking 21 players on a two-and-a-half hour afternoon flight north and returning immediately after the game. Among the notables facing the Canucks are Joe Pavelski and his line with wingers Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels, and fourth liners Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard and Adam Burish. Anthony Stewart, in camp on a tryout, will also play.
Jason Demers, Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin are among the defensemen.
In goal, Alex Stalock is scheduled to play the entire game, as he’s competing in camp with Harri Sateri for the right to back up Antti Niemi. Sateri will also be making the trip.
Head coach Todd McLellan explained the decision to let Stalock go the whole game. “I’d rather see goaltenders play full games. I think it’s fair to the starter to get in and feel good about his night, and it’s not very fair to the backup that night to come in halfway through,” McLellan said.
“I think it’s a pretty big game for me to get a look in a regular preseason exhibition game rather than a scrimmage here and practices,” Stalock said. “It will be a good start, and a good chance to prove where I’m at.”
It’s the first of six preseason games for San Jose, which will host Anaheim and Phoenix on Friday and Saturday at the SAP Center. The Sharks have still have 53 players in training camp, but that number should be much smaller before the weekend.
Hannan, 34, is the elder statesmen for San Jose in its first preseason game. The trip will allow the Richmond, British Columbia native to see some family afterwards, but more importantly, he’ll work to make sure his game is where he wants it to be for opening night.
“I think you’re always trying to leave an impression,” Hannan said. “We all compete, and compete at a high level. We’ve got to get our games to where we want them to be as vets, and young guys are always going to be pushing us. That’s a good thing. That’s competition, and it’s going to make everybody better.”
McLellan held a pair of intra-squad scrimmages earlier in camp, splitting up the group into two teams. He seemed encouraged by the results, particularly after the second matchup on Saturday, but Monday’s game in Vancouver is an entirely different animal.
“It’s that first audition in front of an opponent. We want to see if players belong, if they have the confidence and feel comfortable in that type of stage,” he said.
“Secondly, we want to see their skill set. There’s a reason why they’re in an NHL training camp. They do something well. We want to see that come out. We want to see who plays tentative and who plays aggressive. As the night goes on, we don’t want our players thinking, we want them reacting. But, we would like to see some systematic play and stuff that we’ve worked on.”
It was suggested to the coach that the Sharks don’t exactly have many openings for roster spots. Still, having that internal competition is important, and everyone should be on his toes.
“When you look at contracts and veteran status you’re probably accurate in assuming that, but I’ve said this before, we really don’t care who plays here. We just want the best players here.”
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According to the Canucks’ official website, notable Vancouver players that will suit up on Monday include Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. First round pick Bo Horvat, whom they chose with the selection acquired for goalie Cory Schneider in a trade with New Jersey, will also play. Former Shark Benn Ferriero is also expected in the lineup.
In goal, Eddie Lack will play for the first two periods while Joe Cannata will play the third. Vancouver, like the Sharks, has an open spot at backup goaltender. Roberto Luongo returns as the starter.