Saturday night’s atmosphere at the Tank was a year and a half in the making, as the San Jose Sharks opened the 2021-22 season. It was the first time in 587 days that SAP Center allowed full capacity in a regular season game.
Along with the excitement of having a full crowd back in the Tank, Saturday night marked the start of a new era for the Sharks. With William Eklund, Jasper Weatherby, and Jonathan Dahlen all making their NHL debuts, while Adin Hill, Lane Pederson, Andrew Cogliano, and Nick Bonino all made their Sharks debuts, it was the start of the next chapter in San Jose.
With the crowd roaring during the pregame show, which was spectacular, and the sense of excitement in the stands with so many new and young players, the Sharks skated one by one as their names were called through the iconic shark head, lining up on the blue line for the opening night introductions.
After all the pregame festivities concluded, the game started out with Timo Meier getting a high-quality scoring chance off a great pass from Logan Couture, that Connor Hellebuyck covered up.
The first goal of the game came off a Sharks turnover in the defensive zone that led to former Shark Brenden Dillon throwing a shot on net that rebounded off Adin Hill, right to the stick of Pierre-Luc Dubois, who smacked it into the net, giving the Jets an early 1-0 lead.
After Winnipeg took a 1-0 lead, the Jets continued to put pressure on the Sharks, outshooting San Jose 10-6 heading into the first intermission.
The Jets wasted no time extending their lead coming out of the dressing room to 2-0, only 1:09 into the second. Adin Hill went to play the puck from his crease on a dump in, with the Sharks on the power play, while Erik Karlsson was skating in and a miscue between the two caused the puck to end up on Adam Lowry’s stick, who fed it in front to Andrew Copp, who then deposited it into the back of the net.
Down 2-0 with Winnipeg on the power play after William Eklund was called for tripping, the Sharks responded with a short-handed goal of their own.
Andrew Cogliano raced away on a two on one breakaway with Mario Ferraro after a great pass from Logan Couture. Cogliano decided to take it himself, ripping a short-sided wrist shot from the left circle, that zipped past Hellebuyck’s right shoulder, cutting the deficit in half for the Sharks.
As play went on with both teams trying to establish their physicality, Rudolfs Balcers had the puck against the boards near center ice when Adam Lowry came in with a high elbow. Immediately following the questionable hit, every skater wearing a teal sweater on the ice came flying to Balcers’ defense, causing a full-line scrum to breakout.
While everyone was piled up, Jacob Middleton and Logan Stanley separated from the pack to square off and drop the gloves one on one. Both players connected on a couple of heavy blows, with the crowd and benches cheering them on, before Stanley ended up wrestling Middleton to the ice.
The Sharks sent out an opening night statement by sticking up for their teammate after a big hit, something that we haven’t seen San Jose do the past couple of seasons.
With the Sharks on their third power play of the game, Jasper Weatherby scored the equalizer with his first career NHL goal. Weatherby took a pass from Erik Karlsson, setup by Kevin LaBanc, and ripped a shot above Hellebuyck’s glove to tie the game at 2 with 6:43 left in the period.
The Sharks continued to maintain pressure for the rest of the period, taking four of the final five shots after Weatherby’s goal. San Jose ended the second outshooting Winnipeg 11-6.
Just under three and a half minutes into the third period, with the Sharks back on the power play, Tomas Hertl gave San Jose their first lead of the season.
William Eklund walked the puck into the Sharks’ zone from the blue line and sent a wrist shot whistling to the net. Eklund’s shot banked off Hellebuyck’s pads and ended up right on Hertl’s stick, who chipped the puck into the back of the net, putting the Sharks up 3-2. This marked Eklund’s first NHL point, picking up the primary assist.
Not even two minutes after Hertl broke the tie, 1:39 to be exact, Rudolfs Balcers doubled the Sharks lead, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Balcers brought the puck into the offensive zone and sent a pass to Hertl, who made a spectacular pass to Timo Meier in front of the net. Hellebuyck made a great initial save on Meier’s one timer attempt, but giving up a big rebound, Balcers skated in and sent the rebound into the back of the net.
While Balcers was sending the rebound to the back of the net, Kyle Connor cross-checked him into Hellebuyck, causing a collision, that created mayhem in front of the net as the goal horn was going off. While Tomas Hertl was skating to the penalty box after being called for roughing during the post-goal scrum, he started waiving his arms up and down pumping up the crowd to a deafening standing ovation.
As time started winding down in the game, the Jets got one back with 6:31 left in the final frame. Logan Stanley sent a slap shot wide of the net, but unfortunately for San Jose, the shot ricocheted off the end boards right to Jansen Harkins’ stick, who had a wide open net to shoot at.
In the final minutes of the game, Winnipeg pushed hard and had non-stop pressure, but Adin Hill stood tall in net, shutting down every attempt with some phenomenal saves. Hill finished his strong Sharks debut saving 20 of the 23 shots he faced.
Jasper Weatherby shined in his NHL debut with a goal and an assist. Tomas Hertl also had a big night with a goal and an assist, and William Eklund tallied his first NHL point with an assist in his debut.
The Sharks will be back in action Tuesday afternoon at 4:00PM Pacific Time in Montreal as they take on the Canadiens, kicking off a 5-game road trip.