SAN JOSE - Nevermind that opening night is still over two weeks away. The Sharks are already expecting it to be quite contentious.
San Jose is set to open up their 2019-20 campaign on Oct. 2 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights. It will be the first time the two teams will officially see each other since Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals when the Sharks overcame a three-goal deficit in Game 7 to ultimately defeat Vegas 5-4 in overtime.
Sure, San Jose and Vegas have a couple of tune-up games slotted during preseason play. But given that most of the veterans from last year's rosters probably won't see each other until that opening game, the real test will be when they face off in the season-opener.
Long story short: There could be an all-out brawl in Sin City on opening night.
"It'll be exciting, hopefully we don't kill each other before the season," Tomas Hertl said with a chuckle when he addressed the media on the first day of training camp.
Although the Golden Knights have only been in the league for two seasons, their rivalry with the Sharks has become as bitter as that of a long-standing Original Six stand-off. Even before these squads squared off in the first round of last season's Stanley Cup playoffs, their contests had become combative and physical -- if not also a breeding ground for off-ice smack talk, as demonstrated between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves, and between coaches Peter DeBoer and Gerard Gallant.
"We've built a rivalry, it started right away," Hertl said. "The first few games (this preseason) will prove if we're ready because we play against Vegas in the week three times."
Despite the big Game 7 win last April, the Sharks know their upcoming matchups with the Golden Knights won't be walks in the park. San Jose and Vegas split last year's regular-season series 2-2-0, but both of the Sharks' wins were by a one-goal margin. Vegas defeated the Sharks handily on two occasions, shutting San Jose out 6-0 on Nov. 24 and 7-3 on March 30.
The matchup on Oct. 2 will also be the first time the Sharks will face the Golden Knights with their newly-tooled roster. San Jose will be without some of last season's offensive firepower, mainly former captain Joe Pavelski, who's late-game head injury fueled the Sharks' insane come-from-behind victory.
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Regardless of who the Sharks have in their starting lineup come opening night, they know they have to be ready to grind it out yet again.
"I think we still have to prove we can beat them, not just in the playoffs but in the regular season," Hertl admitted. "We just have to be ready because Vegas will be coming for us."