Ken Arnold was a prophet.
He roamed the halls of San Jose Arena for more than 20 years. Before he left, he had become the director of communications. He bled teal and black. His voice mail message always started with an introduction that included the line: “The San Jose Sharks. The most exciting team in the National Hockey League.”
Yes, there were years, perhaps eras, where this might have been challenged. However, as the 2013-14 National Hockey League campaign dawns, there is no doubt that the San Jose Sharks, thus far, are producing a brand of hockey one has yet to witness in Silicon Valley.
There was word around the league that the team was too old to produce and succeed. Claims were that Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle were aged and had slowed. The team was evaluated as mediocre and most were reluctant to declare them a real contender.
Someone forgot to tell Marleau, Thornton, Boyle and company that they were over the hill.
This team has come out of the gates like a juggernaut. The Sharks have played uncompetitive hockey in that they have dominated each team in their first four contests. As they have done so, they have outscored the opposition 21-5 and out-shot their foes by an average of 18 shots per game.
The veterans have not been the only ones to rise to the occasion. The rookies have provided the most exciting aspect of this early surge.
In the last three matches, the game-winning goal has been scored by three different rookies scoring their first National Hockey League goals. Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Matt Pelech beat Phoenix, the New York Rangers and Vancouver with second-period winners.
Marleau has three goals in the young season. Thornton has four assists to start it off. The aged Boyle already has notched one goal and two assists. I do not think they got the memo that they were slowing.
However, it has been the play of 19-year-old sensation Tomas Hertl from the Czech Republic that has caused a clamor throughout the league. He is in first place in goals with six and third place in points with seven. As the Sharks demolished the New York Rangers Tuesday night by a 9-2 count, Hertl garnered all of the attention with a four-goal night. His final tally was a between-the-legs shot that he roofed into the top-left corner of the goal past an unsuspecting Martin Biron. The struggling Rangers were out-shot 47-20.
Hertl is one of those rookies making a huge splash. Prior to Tuesday’s game, he was on 3 percent of all fantasy teams. By Thursday night, he was on 96 percent. His goals were played over and over on nearly every media outlet. He became one of the most recognizable NHL players overnight.
Hertl has spent his whole life in his home country. He came to the U.S. with no grasp of English. He struggles through interviews. He often does not understand the questions. Hertl has a very limited vocabulary. He does all of his talking on the ice.
After the Rangers game, he commented, “I am happy and crazy. Big game. Today, fourth youngest with four goals. Is good. This crazy. This is great. Third game. Four goals. It’s great.”
He does it all with a huge smile. Yet, he is 19. His English will improve. The Sharks hope his game does not change.
From there, scoring has been spread throughout the team. All lines are scoring. In Thursday night’s 4-1 victory in Vancouver, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored first. In the previous game versus New York, it was Vlasic and Boyle, both defensemen. On opening night, defenseman Justin Braun had the game-winner.
Patrick Marleau commented in the post-game din after Thursday’s win, “Everyone is contributing.”
He also discussed how he had spent the entire summer with the Sharks conditioning coach. He spoke of going to the gym and lifting weights. It seemed like a re-dedication.
Coach Todd McLellan mentioned the contributions he is receiving from so many areas. He mentioned how everyone is in the game.
Yes, it is early. Sure, the Sharks are only four games in. Maybe they have not played the stiffest of their competition yet. However, they are off to arguably their best start in team history.
They are playing exciting hockey. One never knows what to expect. They are dominating. The mixture of youth and veterans has had incredible results.
Yet tonight, they face a tough, young team in the Ottawa Senators. This will be a real test … or perhaps another showcase of Ken Arnold’s “most exciting team in the National Hockey League.”
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.