BROOKLYN – On the Sharks’ current five-game road trip, none stands out as much as the upcoming fourth one.
San Jose will visit the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday in the first meeting between the two clubs since last June’s Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks are off to a solid start with three wins in their first four games, but a victory over the club that ended their championship dreams just four months ago would likely mean more than their early successes.
“Now that it’s here, it will be good. It will be fun,” said Joe Pavelski, moments after the Sharks beat the Islanders on Tuesday night, 3-2.
“Obviously we would have liked a better result last time we played that team. ... It’s a new year. It’s important that we keep building our game and keep trying to get better. We understand it’s a long way from getting back to that position. This is just another good team we’ll be playing.”
At least two of the key members of that six-game Final win won’t be in the lineup for the Penguins. Captain and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby is sidelined with a concussion and has yet to make his season debut, while goalie Matt Murray is still recovering from a hand injury suffered in the recent World Cup of Hockey.
Pittsburgh is 2-1-1, but was smoked by the Canadiens on Tuesday in its most recent game, 4-0.
The Sharks, on the other hand, are seemingly at full health. That includes forward Tomas Hertl, who was knocked out of the Final series with a right knee injury late in Game 2 after he was the Sharks’ most effective player to that point.
“I actually finished with a pretty good game. I hit three posts,” Hertl recalled of his Game 2 performance.
“It should be a pretty good game I think, because everyone is excited from the Final last year. [We’ll] just be ready and show our best hockey, and take two points from them.”
Head coach Pete DeBoer isn’t sure how he’ll feel when he walks into the arena Thursday morning. When he lost in the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils in 2012, he didn’t go back to Los Angeles the following season due to the lockout and Conference-only shortened schedule.
“I don’t know what the emotions will be until I get in there,” he said Tuesday. “It was obviously tough to go on that long a journey and then lose the way we did.”
DeBoer has been vocal since training camp began that the Sharks won’t be sneaking up on anyone after their long playoff run. He reinforced that message when he called last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Columbus “sloppy,” and then ripped into the team for it’s lackluster compete level after Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Rangers.
“The ‘X’ on the back, that’s real,” DeBoer said earlier in the week. “You can’t just stick your head in the sand and ignore that. We’ve got to make sure that we’re prepared to buck the trend.”
The Sharks made some offseason additions designed to do just that and become a faster team, adding winger Mikkel Boedker and defenseman David Schlemko. Thursday will give them an opportunity to put that new on-ice product on display, and DeBoer didn’t shy away from calling it a “statement” game.
“I don’t think there was any doubt at the end of the day [Pittsburgh] deserved to win [the Final],” he said. “But at the same time, I think for us it’s a chance to go in and make a statement that we are a different team this year.”