LOS ANGELES — No, it doesn’t come close to making up for what happened in April.
But it still felt pretty good.The Sharks started off the 2014-15 NHL season Wednesday night with a convincing 4-0 victory over the same Los Angeles Kings who bounced them out of the playoffs and set off a summer of franchise self-analysis.And, yes, there was a little extra motivation to spoil a special night for a Kings team raising a Stanley Cup banner that was earned in part at San Jose’s expense."Yeah," agreed Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, "you know we’re not happy with how last year ended, and it’s tough to see one of your big rivals hoist the Stanley Cup and have a celebration like that."
Two goals by Wingels paced the offense, while Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto each contributed one as the Sharks drove nemesis netminder Jonathan Quick from the game after two periods. At the other end of the ice, San Jose goalie Antti Niemi made 34 stops to give the Sharks their first opening night shutout in franchise history.The NHL looked as if it was being mean-spirited by having the Sharks open their season in Los Angeles, the team that became only the fourth in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games. But the Sharks said the special ceremonies gave them an advantage.Normally, there’s a 15-minute gap between the end of warm-ups and the start of the game. But that gap was 38 minutes as the Kings relived highlights of their Stanley Cup run and saw the cup itself descend from the video board.
The Sharks didn’t watch any of the festivities, opting to stay in the visiting locker room where they tried to stay loose — and then jump out to an early lead to take advantage of a Kings team that may have had its mind elsewhere.
"I thought that if we could get the lead, it would work," coach Todd McLellan said. "If they got the lead and the energy built … it was important for us to score first and try to build on that."
The Sharks did dominate early, outshooting the Kings 7-1 at one point and taking a 1-0 lead on Wingels’ first goal at 5:43, when he fired a wrist shot from a harsh angle that zipped over Quick’s shoulder.
The lead doubled early in the second period with Kings forward Kyle Clifford in the penalty box for tripping Wingels. Thirty-four seconds later, Marleau redirected a shot-pass from Brent Burns at the blue line to make it 2-0 at 3:20.
Later in the same period, it took the Sharks only 14 seconds to double that lead.
The Kings fell behind 3-0 when Wingels picked up a pass from Burns in the neutral zone, outraced two defenders, then beat Quick with a nifty backhand shot at 15:50. On the next shift, Quick misplayed the puck behind his net, and Marleau steered the puck to Nieto, who poked it into the net before the Kings goalie could get back into position.
At the other end of the ice, Niemi rewarded his coach’s decision to play him in the opener. McLellan had declared the starting spot up for grabs, and Alex Stalock had put up better numbers in the preseason.
Still, McLellan went with Niemi.
"Nemo has a proven track record," the coach said. "We’d like to show him we have the confidence in him this year."
Niemi’s biggest save of the night came when it was still 1-0 early in the second period, extending his right pad to rob Kings forward Jeff Carter on a wraparound that looked like a sure goal.
Niemi, too, said that last spring’s playoffs added to the motivation beyond the usual two points.
"Especially losing the way we lost in the seventh game," he said. "We wanted to be on time today."
Winnipeg (0-0-0) at Sharks (1-0-0), 7 p.m. CSNCA
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