You expect back-to-back games in the NHL. Just not on the first two nights of the season, not both on the road, and certainly not against veteran teams opening their season. Still, if you’ve got youth on your side, which the Flyers do in buckets, maybe their opening game in San Jose on Oct. 4 and the Oct. 5 game in Los Angeles are exactly the time you want to play two teams full of plus-30 veterans.
Two seasons ago, the San Jose Sharks bucked an inauspicious reputation for postseason flame-outs with a spirited run to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to Pittsburgh in six games. They followed that by posting the NHL’s most intimidating home record (26-11-4 ) in 2016-17, again entering the postseason as the Pacific Division’s third seed as they had the season before.
Guess what happened.
The Sharks faced tough choices after losing in six games to Edmonton in the first round. They chose to re-sign 38-year-old center Joe Thornton to a one-year deal and hand long-term contracts to 35-win goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. But cap concerns forced a tearful goodbye to 25-goal scorer and franchise icon Patrick Marleau. Which won’t help what was at times — including two fateful games in the playoffs — a mercurial offense.
This matchup is likely to provide an early barometer for both teams. Built from the back forward, the Sharks do not have any first-round draft picks participating in their rookie camp. They are a team built for here and now. Similarly, the veteran Kings, after replacing their coach and general manager, have pledged a more uptempo style than the counter-attack approach employed by Darryl Sutter that resulted in two Stanley Cups.
In 25 of their 43 losses (8 OTL), the Kings scored one goal or none. “We understand that we need to change some things,” Kings president Luc Robitaille told season-ticket holders last month, and his open letter to fans in July promised a quick return to contention.
Promoted coach John Stevens — remember him? — has pledged a more uptempo style that aims to generate offense through the middle of the ice rather than on the perimeter. No one has explained yet how a team built to play a completely different style will accomplish that, but the early game with the Flyers is sure to drop hints either way.