Programming note: Coyotes-Sharks coverage gets underway tonight at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – It’s been more than nine months since Sharks fans got to cheer on their team at HP Pavilion. That will finally change tonight, when the 2-0-0 Sharks welcome the Phoenix Coyotes for their home opener (7:30 p.m., CSN California).
“It’s still fun. It’s still great,” Patrick Marleau said. “You always get up and get those chills when you head out there and the fans are going crazy.”
Adam Burish will be playing in his first-ever home opener with the Sharks. He said: “As an opponent here, it was always a loud building at the start. Other teams I’ve been on, the focal point going into the game was, let’s try to have a good start to slow the Sharks down, because they come out blazing with this building rocking.”
[RELATED: Coyotes-Sharks at a glance]
The Sharks have taken part in two home openers already, spoiling the parties for Calgary on Sunday and Edmonton on Tuesday. The defending Pacific Division champion Coyotes (1-2-0) will try and do the same thing to the Sharks that the Sharks did to the Flames and Oilers.
“We’ve got a mature group,” Todd McLellan said. “Most of them have been through this many times already. They understand where we are in the season, and the urgency that’s needed. It’s also about rewarding our fans for a patient wait.”
Joe Thornton said: “It’s a good feeling spoiling ceremonies like opening night, so we have to make sure it doesn’t happen to us tonight.”
The Sharks' previous home game was on April 19, 2011, a Game 4 loss in the first round to St. Louis.
Gomez not playing
Scott Gomez has been around the Sharks since last Saturday when he boarded the team charter to Calgary. The unrestricted free agent officially signed on Wednesday, but he won’t be playing against the Coyotes.
“The lineup that’s played the first two nights deserves an opportunity to play again, and we’ll give them that chance again tonight,” McLellan said.
There’s been speculation that Gomez will be slotted onto the third line between Tommy Wingels and TJ Galiardi where Michal Handzus currently skates, but that’s all it is – speculation. McLellan praised Handzus for his play on Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s goal in Edmonton for setting a screen in front of goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
“He was elite in front of the net as far as a screen goes on Vlasic’s goal,” McLellan said.
As for the fourth line, it’s unclear whether it will be Frazer McLaren or James Sheppard. In fact, they don’t even know, as McLellan wants them to both prepare as if they will be playing.
Antti Niemi (2-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .934 SP) will start in net.
Smith questionable for Coyotes
Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith is questionable for the game tonight after suffering a lower body injury last night against Columbus. Jason LaBarbara picked up in the win in relief of Smith in a 5-1 home win, the Coyotes’ first of the season.
That’s good news for the Sharks. In six games against San Jose last season, the 30-year-old was 4-1-1 with a 1.98 GAA and .948 SP. Oh, and he pitched three shutouts.
McLellan mentioned Smith’s puck-handling skills as being especially good. “You’re often facing three defenseman versus two,” he said.
The Coyotes were led on Wednesday by newcomer Steve Sullivan’s hat trick.
“There wasn’t an area of the game they lost, from faceoffs to special teams,” McLellan said. “They played extremely well and looked like a team that made a decision and commitment to each other, to play the way they were last year.”
Burish, Irwin ready for home debuts
Burish has been skating on the fourth line wing with the Sharks, playing more than eight minutes a night. He’s especially excited for one aspect of tonight’s home opener.
“As a kid, you always watch these guys skate out of the big Shark mouth, and I always thought that was pretty cool. It will be fun to do that,” he said.
Rookie defenseman Matt Irwin will also be playing in his first home opener. Paired with Dan Boyle, the 25-year-old has played well in his first two NHL games.
“It helped to play the visiting team role for two home openers up in Canada,” Irwin said. “I’m excited to be cheered for and not against tonight. Obviously, the first one is going to be something to remember.”
Practicing at HP
The Sharks skated at HP Pavilion on Wednesday, mostly for the benefit of a couple new faces – Burish and associate coach Larry Robinson.
“Those two hadn’t even experienced our locker room yet. They walked in yesterday, got familiar with what was going on, we were able to skate, and they got a sense of the boards, the glass, the bench. But, it is relatively new for some guys.”
Early word is the Sharks are leaning towards skating here on Friday, too, before a pair of back-to-back home games against Colorado and Vancouver this weekend.