Sharks set to welcome first Eastern opponent

Kevin and Brodie: Hertl raising expectations; Stuart returns

Sharks set to welcome first Eastern opponent
October 7, 2013, 3:00 pm
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The New York Rangers open the 2013-'14 campaign with nine straight road games due to renovations at Madison Square Garden. (USATSI)

SAN JOSE – Get used to hearing notes like this throughout the 2013-14 season: the New York Rangers haven’t visited San Jose in more than two-and-a-half years, with the previous game between the two clubs here on March 12, 2011.

In fact, it’s been nearly two years since they have played each other in any capacity, thanks to last season's lockout. The Sharks visited Madison Square Garden on Halloween night 2011, in a game that was memorable for Joe Thornton calling the Rangers “soft” after San Jose dropped a 5-2 decision to the blueshirts.

While opinions differ on the NHL’s realigning into four divisions, the fact that every NHL team will visit each of the other 29 NHL arenas at least once moving forward has been met with widespread approval. The Rangers and Sharks will face one another at SAP Center on Tuesday night.

Matt Irwin, a rookie last year, said: “I’ve never played a game against any [Eastern Conference team], so for the fans it’s great to see every team, and obviously the players like myself that haven’t experienced that get to play against everyone in the league, which is nice.”

“It makes for an interesting year, and a year you’re going to get to see a lot of places,” Tyler Kennedy said.

The season is still in its early enough stages that the Sharks' coaching staff won’t over prepare its club for an unfamiliar opponent. Todd McLellan is still focusing on how his team needs to play, rather than concentrating too much on opposing tendencies or strategy.

“I know with our team anyhow, we’re a lot more concerned about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and where and when, and with the right intensity, than what the other team might be doing,” McLellan said. “Yet, we still have a responsibility to give them some information so that they’re prepared for situations. That’s where we’re at now.”

McLellan and his staff will get a good look at the Rangers on Monday night, when New York plays the first of a back-to-backs at Staples Center against the Kings. Thanks to ongoing renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers are starting the season with nine straight road games.

The Sharks already beat the Rangers’ former head coach on Thursday, as John Tortorella’s Canucks lost 4-1 to San Jose. Deposed Canucks coach Alain Vigneault will return to San Jose as the Rangers' coach, his first time in the building since his Canucks were swept in last May’s playoffs.

“They’re a team with a new coach. It takes some time,” McLellan said. “Talented, talented team, great goaltending, competitive team. We’ll have our hands full, no doubt about it.”

For Sharks season ticket holders, it will be the first of 16 games they’ll see an Eastern Conference opponent.

“Fans deserve that, and that’s the main thing,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.

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McLellan gave his thoughts on the Philadelphia Flyers letting head coach Peter Laviolette go just three games into the season.

“There’s 30 seats lined up, and when you’re one of them, it’s never nice to see a colleague released from his position. Because Peter has been out East his whole time and I’ve been out West, I don’t have a real good relationship with him, but I know he’s a hell of a coach. When you talk to coaches around the league, his preparation and his work ethic and that type of stuff…I wouldn’t expect him to be out of the game for long, that’s for sure.”

The Flyers have scored just three goals total in three regulation losses after missing the playoffs last season.

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