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Flyers, Sharks feature new looks in opener
A new season means new eras for the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers.
For the Sharks, it's a matter of moving on from the player who has been the face of their franchise since the late '90s, while for the Flyers, it's hoping a 19-year-old will eventually become their cornerstone.
With Patrick Marleau gone, San Jose kicks off a season-opening five-game homestand against No. 2 overall draft pick Nolan Patrick and Philadelphia on Wednesday night at SAP Center in San Jose.
Last season, the Sharks finished with 99 points -- one more than they had in 2015-16 en route to a loss in its first Stanley Cup finals appearance. A late fade last spring in which San Jose dropped nine of its final 13 games continued with a first-round exit vs. Edmonton.
The Sharks' biggest challenge will be overcoming the loss of Marleau, who signed a three-year deal with Toronto as a free agent.
"Nothing will ever take away what Patrick and our team accomplished over the last nearly 20 years," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told the San Jose Mercury News in July.
What Marleau did will result in his No. 12 eventually being the first number retired by the club. Selected No. 2 overall in the 1997 draft, Marleau was San Jose's all-time leader in virtually every offensive category, including goals (508), assists (573), points (1,081), power-play goals (160), short-handed goals (17) and game-winners (98) over 19 seasons.
Letting the 38-year-old Marleau go may come back to bite the Sharks. Last season, he scored 27 goals -- good for third on a team that was 10th in the Western Conference with 2.67 goals per game.
One player who will need to step up his game as he tries to replace Marleau is Mikkel Boedker, who notched 10 goals in 81 games in a trying first season after signing a four-year deal in 2016.
"There's always new things," the 27-year-old told the Mercury News. "New teammates, new area, new jerseys, new chemistry. But that's not an excuse. I looked at myself in the mirror and said: 'Last year wasn't good enough.'"
San Jose wasn't active in free agency this time around. However, the team brought back Joe Thornton on a one-year deal. The top overall pick by Boston in 1997 -- and one spot ahead of Marleau -- is trying to bounce back after an April knee injury resulted in him playing with a torn ACL and MCL during the postseason.
"Jumbo Joe" made his preseason debut in a 4-0 loss to Arizona on Saturday, leaving coach Peter DeBoer impressed.
"I thought he was great," DeBoer told the Mercury News. "I thought he got better as the game went on. The first period he was kind of feeling his way, and by the third, he was our best player."
Thornton had seven goals and 43 assists last season.
San Jose also has the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Brent Burns, who tied a career high with 29 goals and led the club with 76 points. Joe Pavelski added 29 goals and Logan Couture had 25 goals, but after that, no player scored more than 11 markers.
Martin Jones, a 35-game winner last season, will see most of the playing time in goal again, with Aaron Dell as a backup. Dell's only career shutout came in a 2-0 win over the Flyers on Dec. 30.
The Sharks play four of their first five against Eastern Conference teams. San Jose was 21-7-4 against the East -- including an 11-4-1 mark vs. Metropolitan Division foes -- in 2016-17.
Philadelphia is also a team in transition after failing to reach the postseason for the third time in five years, and they may be looking for Patrick to make an immediate impact.
The Flyers selected the center after New Jersey took Nico Hischier first overall. As a 16-year-old two seasons ago, Patrick scored 41 goals and a team-high 61 assists for Brandon of the Western Hockey League.
In an injury-shortened 2016-17 campaign, the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native managed to record 20 goals and 26 assists in 33 games. Patrick recorded three assists in six preseason games, and at least one veteran teammate took notice.
"Extremely consistent. He goes about his own business the way he's got to," Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds told the Courier-Post on Sunday. "... He's pretty even-keeled. He makes a great play, you don't get much out of him. He makes a bad play and it's, 'I'll do better next time.'"
If the Flyers are to have any success, they will need Claude Giroux to turn things around. The center led Philadelphia with 86 points in 2013-14, but his scoring declined in each of the next three seasons. Despite playing all 82 games, Giroux scored only 58 points last season, and his 14 goals were the fewest in a full season since 2009-10.
The Flyers have been looking for an elite goaltender for years, and they think Brian Elliott is the answer after the club was tied for 26th in save percentage (.901) last season.
In his only season with Calgary, Elliott got off to a slow start by going 3-9-1 with a 3.31 goal-against average over the first two months of the campaign. He finished 26-18-3 with a 2.55 GAA and two shutouts, and that was enough for Flyers to give the 32-year-old a two-year deal.
"I'm not going to sit and compare Brian to (Steve Mason, now with Winnipeg). I can tell you we're extremely excited to have Brian," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told Philly.com after the deal was completed in July. "He's a very competitive guy, and he has a really good work ethic."
However, among goaltenders with a minimum of four postseason games played last spring, Elliott had the second-lowest save percentage (.880) as the Flames were swept in the first round by Anaheim. He has also played mostly in tandems while with St. Louis and Calgary, and has never started more than 51 games in a season.
Philadelphia may not have Shayne Gostisbehere (upper body injury) in the opener. He led all Flyers defensemen with 39 points (seven goals, 32 assists) despite a minus-21 rating in 76 games last season.
San Jose and Philadelphia split two games last season, with each team winning at home. The Sharks are 9-1-0 with a tie in their last 11 matchups versus the Flyers in California.
Updated October 3, 2017