SAN JOSE (AP) -- The message to the San Jose Sharks from the coaching staff and management was the same at the start of training camp as it was when last season ended in a second straight Western Conference finals loss.If the Sharks are going to get over that hurdle and win the Stanley Cup for the first time, they can't wait three months to get going.A sluggish start last season left the Sharks in 12th place in the West in mid-January. A furious finish to the regular season earned San Jose a fourth straight Pacific Division title but might have drained the tank when it was needed most in the postseason."We have to hold them accountable," coach Todd McLellan said Saturday after the first practice of training camp. "We have to make sure we're pushing probably earlier this year than we did last year. We let them off the hook a little bit too much. That started already yesterday. It was very clear from our perspective what we expect from this group, and anything other than that is unacceptable."The Sharks made it through two playoff rounds before losing in five games to Vancouver last season as they wore down following a seven-game, second-round series against Detroit. San Jose had been swept in the conference finals the previous year by eventual champion Chicago.The Sharks were the only team to make it that far in each of the past two seasons, but that's little consolation for a franchise that has been near the top of the league the past decade but is still looking for its first trip to the Stanley Cup finals."There's just no recovery from bad starts," defenseman Douglas Murray said. "We didn't have a bad start for an average team. But for our goals and what we're looking to do here it was a terrible start for us. It probably took a lot of extra effort in the latter part of the season to get us into the right position for the playoffs. We wasted too much focus and energy doing that. It's better to take it out in the playoffs than to have to use it in the regular season."The message about fast starts has been heard by the players, who say that means being prepared each day before taking the ice for practice and bringing a heightened focus each day during training camp."Some guys are fighting for positions, some guys aren't," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "But we need to lead by example. For us older guys it's definitely not OK to take a day off. It's important to set the right example for the younger guys."General manager Doug Wilson made some big changes in the offseason, trading a pair of top forwards in separate deals to Minnesota. Wilson dealt Devin Setoguchi in a package for All-Star defenseman Brent Burns and swapped Dany Heatley for the speedier Martin Havlat.The Sharks also signed defensemen Colin White and James Vandermeer, turning what had been a weakness on the blue line to a strength. Those three new defensemen take the place of Niclas Wallin, Ian White and Kent Huskins.With Boyle, Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic back, and youngsters Jason Demers and Justin Braun in the mix, the Sharks have more defensive depth than they've ever had."This may be the most competitive training camp we have had here," Wilson said. "We told our players, if you don't like competition, you're in the wrong business."San Jose also signed forwards Michal Handzus and Andrew Murray to help bolster a penalty-killing unit that ranked 24th in the NHL last season at 79.6 percent."Every team, it doesn't matter if you win the Cup or don't make the playoffs, teams are going to change," captain Joe Thornton said. "'We like our additions and it's exciting to start the season."Goalies Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki didn't practice because of injuries. Niemi is day to day after having a cyst removed, while Niittymaki will be out for much longer while dealing with a groin problem that has lingered since last season.Newly acquired forward James Sheppard is also out after having offseason knee surgery, and Vlasic missed practice with an illness. Handzus didn't practice, two days after attending the funeral in Slovakia for former teammate Pavol Demitra.
PITTSBURGH – Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are already two of the more recognizable players in the NHL, standing at six-foot-four and six-foot-five respectively, and beards that are only slightly shorter than that.
Strolling about the Steel City on Wednesday, they caught the attention of one hockey fan who snapped a photo of Burns and a shirtless Thornton, and sent it to Pittsburgh radio host Colin Dunlap, who subsequently tweeted the image. As of Thursday morning, it had nearly 5,000 retweets and more than 8,000 likes.
After the Sharks’ morning skate on Thursday, Thornton simply said he was “just seeing the sights,” before quickly running off to the showers.
Head coach Pete DeBoer laughed heartily when asked if he had seen the picture.
“I did. [Thornton] doesn’t like his shirt on, we know that,” DeBoer said. “That’s the uniqueness and the beauty of our group.”
The Sharks play the Penguins on Thursday night in the first meeting between the teams since the Stanley Cup Final.
I believe this is Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. They are walking around Pittsburgh's North Shore and don't give ONE HELL. pic.twitter.com/T7t8LiLlBy— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) October 19, 2016
.@colin_dunlap tiny creepy and shouldn't be on phone while driving BUT I respect the photo skills! 19looks like he just got off the bench Ha— Brent Burns (@Burnzie88) October 19, 2016
Programming note: Sharks-Penguins coverage starts today at 3:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California
WHERE THEY STAND
Sharks: 3-1-0, 6 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Penguins: 2-1-1, 5 points, 2nd Metropolitan Division
NEWS AND NOTES
***The Sharks and Penguins will meet for the first time since Pittsburgh’s win in the Stanley Cup Final last June. The Penguins are, however, missing some key pieces to that series victory as Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Matt Murray and Conor Sheary are all out due to injury.
The Sharks are 2-1 on their current five-game road trip, which concludes on Saturday in Detroit.
“A lot of reminders for sure being back here not long ago,” Joel Ward said. “Definitely excited, a good challenge with us being on the road early again. We’ll try to notch another road win.”
***Pete DeBoer said after the Islanders game that he wasn’t sure what his emotions would be like when he walked into the rink, which is now called PPG Paints Arena. Now that he’s here, how does he feel?
“An overwhelming sense I think of pride for our group and the journey we went on,” he said. “I know we came up short, but the memories I have coming back in here are just of how our guys really emptied the tank. … They were the better team, but I was very proud of our effort. That’s the overwhelming feeling right now.”
As for Joe Thornton, he recalled that the last time the Sharks were here they won Game 5, prolonging the series.
“The last time we were here was a pretty good feeling,” Thornton said. “That’s all I remember, really.”
***Matt Nieto will return to the lineup for Micheal Haley, who played against the Islanders and helped to generate the first goal in the 3-2 win.
DeBoer stressed that Nieto wasn’t removed from the lineup due to his play, but that the Sharks are “going to rotate guys in and out” due to their improved depth.
“[Nieto] brings some more speed for us. I thought he did a good job the game before we took him out,” DeBoer said. “Hales gave us a real good game against a physical team against the Islanders, and Neets will go back in to tonight. He’s just got to do his thing.”
Nieto said: “Something they try to do is play fast, and they’ve got a lot of speedy guys in their lineup. I think if I’m moving my legs it could be effective.”
KEEP AN EYE ON
Sharks: Joe Thornton. The Sharks’ top line center broke through on Tuesday in Brooklyn, setting up the game-tying goal and game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Islanders. Thornton didn’t have a very good Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins with just three assists in six games, so perhaps he has some retribution on his mind, even if he doesn't want to admit it.
Penguins: Matt Cullen. The veteran center is doing his best to help minimize the loss of Crosby, and is tied for the team lead with three points (1g, 2a). Dating back to last season, Cullen, who turns 40 on Nov. 2, has 11 goals in his past 31 games.
Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Mikkel Boedker – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Patrick Marleau – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Matt Nieto – Tommy Wingels – Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko
Martin Jones (confirmed starter)
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust
Carl Hagelin – Nick Bonino – Phil Kessel
Scott Wilson – Matt Cullen – Patric Honqvist
Tom Sestito – Eric Fehr – Tom Kuhnhackl
Olli Maatta – Trevor Daley
Ian Cole – Justin Schultz
Derrick Pouliot – Brian Dumoulin
Penguins: Kris Letang (upper body) and Conor Sheary (eye), Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Matt Murray (hand) are out.