10 Must-See Games for the San Jose Sharks in 2014-2015

Grant Raffel@@GRaffel_BRContributor IJune 26, 2014

10 Must-See Games for the San Jose Sharks in 2014-2015

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    The San Jose Sharks have begun perhaps the most intriguing offseason in their 23-year history. Questions surround the veteran leadership of the team after blowing a 3-0 lead in the first round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Kings. General Manager Doug Wilson has promised changes, some of which could substantiate at this week's draft.

    But let's look ahead to some hockey, shall we?

    The NHL released schedules for all 1,230 regular-season games that will take place during the 2014-2015 season. Of the Sharks' 82 games, 10 truly stand out as must-see matchups. These games already contain great rivalries and storylines even more than three months prior to opening night (sorry, the Coyotes' name change from "Phoenix" to "Arizona" doesn't cut it).

    Sure, this Sharks' offseason is clouded with the most questions and uncertainty in recent memory. But one thing is certain: San Jose will take the ice October 8 in L.A. That matchup and nine other key contests follow, in chronological order.

Sharks at Kings

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    When: Wednesday, October 8, 2014. 7 p.m. PT.

    The Sharks' 2014-2015 season will get underway against the team that has sent it packing from the playoffs the last two years. Of course, it was the Kings who became the fourth team in NHL history to come back and win from a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks in this season's first round. 

    This rivalry has become more intense and bitter recently, as the teams have faced each other in playoff series in three of the last four season. The Sharks prevailed in six games in 2011, with the Kings winning seven-game thrillers in 2013 and 2014.

    This game is part of a quadruple-header opening night in the NHL. It will be the first time the Kings take the ice at Staples Center since winning Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final over the New York Rangers to clinch the most recognizable trophy in sports.

    In a biting bit of irony, the Sharks will watch as the Kings raise their second Stanley Cup banner in three years. The night will be full of reminders of last year's historical playoff series and L.A.'s ensuing cup run. It remains to be seen how similar (or different) the team San Jose puts on the ice will be to the one that collapsed against the Kings. But, if the Sharks can't wake up and get motivated for this meeting, perhaps they need more than a "rebuild."

    Sharks-Kings clashes feature hard-checking, physical play from both talented squads. Bad blood runs deep between the two teams. Any date with the Kings is one to circle on the calendar for Sharks fans; there's a reason three of the games on this list feature the Kings as the opponent. But this one should have much more at stake.

Jets at Sharks

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    When: Saturday, October 11, 2014. 7 p.m. PT.

    The Sharks' home opener promises to offer intrigue on multiple levels. Following a trip to Staples Center to open their season, the Sharks will be in the comfortable confines of SAP Center for the only time in their first seven games.

    Wait...About that "comfortable" thing...

    It's tough to know what to expect at the Shark Tank on opening night: How will the loyal fans greet the team coming off its most embarrassing playoff defeat yet? Will the place truly be rocking, as it has for many years? Will it be sold out?

    Surely the Sharks want to come out stronger than they did in their last appearance on home ice, when they fell to the Kings 5-1 in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs, and push the lingering memories of the blown 3-0 series lead to the back of everyone's mind.

    San Jose typically enjoys a nice home-ice advantage. SAP Center is consistently ranked among the most difficult places for opposing teams to play and the Sharks owned the second-best home mark in the league for 2013-2014.

    Even though San Jose will face a Winnipeg team that is among the least interesting in the NHL, there's no doubt the team looks forward to this home opener as a way to win back its fans and prove it is ready to move forward in its continual quest for the elusive Stanley Cup.

Sharks at Bruins

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    When: Tuesday, October 21, 2014. 4 p.m. PT.

    The Sharks will visit TD Garden for their seventh game of the regular season and the final contest in a five-game road trip to the East Coast. In the Bruins, the Sharks will square off against a perennial Eastern Conference power, which should provide a good measuring stick early in the season.

    Last season's trip to Boston saw a thrilling but heartbreaking finish for the Sharks. San Jose outplayed Boston all game, out-shooting the Bruins 39-17, but Tuukka Rask stood on his head and David Krejci scored the game-winning goal with just 0.8 seconds left on the clock, giving the Bruins a 2-1 victory and handing the Sharks their first regulation loss of the year. San Jose will be out for revenge against a squad that also beat it in the teams' only other meeting last year.

    Like the Sharks, the Bruins are set up for an intriguing offseason. Rumors are circling about many Bruins players, like the possibility of trading Brad Marchand. The B's will also have to decide which free agents to sign under limited cap space. Jarome Iginla has generated the most discussion recently.

    There's certainly a good chance both teams will look relatively different than they have during the last few seasons. Will Joe Thornton still be a member of the Sharks when they visit his former team?

Sharks at Blackhawks

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    When: Sunday, November 9, 2014. 4 p.m. PT.

    When the Sharks play at the United Center in Chicago, they will be in the midst of a grueling season-opening stretch in which they play 16 of their first 21 games on the road. This will also be the second of seven games on one of the Sharks' two longest road trips.

    The Blackhawks have been one of the top teams in the Western Conference in recent years. The 'Hawks swept the Sharks in the conference final on their way to winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. Following another Cup in 2013 and a seven-game series loss to Los Angeles in this year's conference final, there is no reason to expect the Blackhawks to do anything but contend for another Stanley Cup in 2014-2015.

    With centerpieces Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews returning, Chicago will look to tweak its lineup to get by the Kings and other western powers in the playoffs.

    San Jose has won the last two meetings with Chicago, both in shootouts. But Chicago won the previous four in a row. This will be the Sharks' only trip to the Windy City, and one of just three regular-season meetings between these competitive, feisty foes. Fans can expect a nice Pacific Division-Central Division showdown.

Blues at Sharks

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    When: Saturday, December 20, 2014. 7:30 p.m. PT.

    The Blues will visit San Jose to wrap up a five-game Sharks home stand. This game will also mark a point of transition in the Sharks' schedule. Per Fear the Fin, the Sharks will play a stretch of 15 games from November 16 through December 20, 11 of which will take place at home, mostly against some of the league's weaker teams. But the Blues coming to town will provide a good test against a Stanley Cup contender and open up a tough couple of weeks.

    San Jose thoroughly dominated St. Louis last year, winning all three contests and outscoring the Blues 16-7 in the process. St. Louis still had a good regular season. But its playoff loss to Chicago, losing four- straight games after opening with 2-0 lead, has left some sour feelings after many felt the Blues were Stanley Cup favorites (sounds vaguely familiar). The Blues beat the Sharks in five games in their last playoff series in 2012. 

    St. Louis promises to contend again this year, even though Ryan Miller's short tenure with the team is over. It is in the market for many of this year's top free agents to try to add a different piece to the puzzle after the blockbuster deal with Buffalo didn't have its intended effects. Coach Ken Hitchcock has done a tremendous job with this group since taking over three years ago and always has the Blues ready to play.

    A Sharks-Blues matchup may not have the star power or name appeal that a Kings-Blackhawks game does, but it should provide a great tactical contest of high-quality hockey. 

Ducks at Sharks

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    When: Thursday, January 29, 2015. 7:30 p.m. PT.

    The Forgotten California Hockey Rivalry deserves more hype. While the Sharks-Kings rivalry has largely been a recent development, the Sharks and Ducks have been two of the top dogs in the Pacific Division for more than a decade. 

    The reigning Pacific Division Champion Ducks are rumored to be interested in acquiring Ryan Kesler from Vancouver or Jason Spezza from Ottawa, and also seem to be in the market for free agent goalie Ryan Miller. These potential moves could push the Ducks, who earned a franchise-record 116 points last season, from Stanley Cup contenders to favorites. 

    This game will open up the post-All-Star break portion of the schedule for the Sharks, the "second half" of the season, so to speak. It is also San Jose's fifth game on a season-high seven-game home stand.

    Importantly, this will be the final Sharks-Ducks regular-season meeting. As Fear the Fin points out"If the Pacific Division comes down to the Ducks and Sharks, as it did last season, we won't be treated to a high-stakes showdown like we were this past April."

    As divisional foes and potential playoff opponents thanks to the new divisional format introduced this year, both teams will want to draw blood in their last meeting, even though it takes place in January.

Capitals at Sharks

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    When: Wednesday, February 11, 2015. 7:30 p.m. PT.

    Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals will visit the Shark Tank and try to improve their record against Todd McLellan's group. The Capitals are just 2-15-2 versus the Sharks since 1999, but they won at SAP Center last season for the first time since 1993. 

    It's always a treat to watch Ovechkin play. But Washington has not met expectations recently and struggled last season, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. 

    Sharks fans will recognize a familiar face behind the Caps' bench. Longtime Nashville Predators bench boss Barry Trotz has taken over in Washington for the departed Adam Oates. Trotz and the rest of the coaching staff are expected to implement a new system in Washington. 

    The Capitals are set for an exciting season in which they will host the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. The Sharks hope to have an outdoor game of their own...

Kings at Sharks

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    When: Saturday, February 21, 2015. 7 p.m. PT.

    Just about any Sharks-Kings game is must-see. But this game could be extra special. According to reports, the Sharks are likely to land an outdoor game in the 2014-2015 season. Numerous writers, including David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News, have speculated that this particular contest will be the one moved outside.

    As for the site of the game, both AT&T Park in San Francisco and Levi's Stadium, the 49ers' new Santa Clara home, are viable options. CSNCalifornia.com Sharks beat writer Kevin Kurz has the scoop.

    Regarding #SJSharks potential outdoor game: hearing league is leaning towards Levi’s Stadium, and #LAKings as the probable opponent

    — Kevin Kurz (@KKurzCSN) June 17, 2014

    An official announcement from the NHL is expected in July. Until then, we can just imagine the Sharks and Kings taking their great rivalry to the great outdoors.

    In January, the Kings and Ducks met at Dodger Stadium in the first outdoor game in a warm-weather climate. The success of that game has made another one possible, Kurz said.

    This game has the potential to grow hockey in the Bay Area and Northern California. It could provide a boost in revenue for a Sharks team with an unfavorable TV deal in place. More than anything, though, the game would provide a high-profile spectacle featuring one of the best rivalries in hockey.

Sharks at Penguins

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    When: Sunday, March 29, 2015. 4:30 p.m. PT.

    San Jose will visit Pittsburgh for their 76th game of the season and last on their second of two seven-game road trips. This late-season contest should give fans a good idea of where these teams stand heading into possible playoff appearances.

    The Penguins and Sharks are in the similar position of asking a lot of questions this offseason. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, playoff success has largely eluded Crosby, Malkin & Co. Like the Sharks, the talent is clearly there, but something is missing. The Pens decided a change at GM and coach could be the difference they needed, firing Ray Shero and later Dan Bylsma in favor of former Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford and the recent hire of Head Coach Mike Johnston. 

    The Penguins are in win-now mode, and anything short of a Stanley Cup will be considered a failure. The Sharks are stressing a rebuild, but the extent of changes remains to be seen.

    The Penguins have won just three games against the Sharks in the teams' previous 19 meetings dating back to 1998. The teams split last year's series, though, with each team winning at home: Pittsburgh by a 5-1 margin and San Jose by a score of 5-3.

    No matter what happens between now and then, this game should have some star power and provide a good East-West matchup toward the end of the season.

Sharks at Kings

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    When: Saturday, April 11, 2015. Noon PT.

    One more Sharks-Kings game on this list can't do any harm, can it?

    This will be the last regular-season game for both teams and could carry major playoff implications. The Sharks' season will be bookended by trips to L.A. And while the first game may mean a lot mentally and emotionally, this game will likely be of greater import in the standings. If this season goes anything like the previous few, the Sharks and Kings will be jockeying for playoff position in this final contest. It could even be a first round series preview.

    Will the Sharks be preparing for the playoffs, as they have the last 10 seasons? Or will they be readying for a long summer thanks to a "rebuild" courtesy of Doug Wilson? 

    There may be 81 games before the teams arrive at this meeting, the fifth and final in the regular season between the two teams. But no matter the circumstances or implications of the game, we can expect another battle in the "Battle of California."