Optimistic Sharks start season with challenge in facing Knights

Even after seeing his team finish seventh in the Pacific Division and trade away three-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, Sharks coach David Quinn enters Thursday night’s season opener with plenty of optimism.

“I think we have an opportunity here to surprise a lot of people,” Quinn said.

And surprise a lot of people it would if host San Jose could down the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights to open its 2023-24 campaign.

The Sharks finished with a 22-44-16 record and 60 points last season, just two more points than the Anaheim Ducks (23-47-12, 58 points), who had the fewest points in the NHL.

“I look at our roster and I look at what we have,” Quinn said. “I know there’s a lot of naysayers and people picking us in certain spots. We certainly don’t feel that way as a team.”

ESPN rated San Jose 32nd out of 32 teams in its preseason NHL power rankings.

“We’ve got a couple players here people would die to have in Logan Couture (27 goals, 67 points last season) and Tommy Hertl (22 goals, 63 points) that we can build around,” Quinn said. “Not only are they great players but they’re great people. I feel very good about where we’re at. I do.”

However, Quinn announced Wednesday that Couture, the team’s captain, will miss the opener after having a setback from a lower-body injury suffered during offseason conditioning.

San Jose will try to improve on a dreadful 8-22-11 home-ice record from a season ago, the fewest home wins by any team in the league. The Sharks finished the 2022-23 season with a six-game losing streak, with their second-to-last win of the campaign coming on March 30, a 4-3 overtime victory over the Golden Knights. San Jose split its four games with Vegas last season.

The Golden Knights opened their season with a 4-1 win over the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. Adin Hill stopped 32 of 33 shots and Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev each scored goals in the first 22 minutes of action as the Golden Knights jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Jack Eichel added an empty-net goal late in the third period and Mark Stone chipped in with two assists.

“I thought we kind of took over the second half of the first (period),” Stone said. “It was a pretty evenly-played game after that but getting that lead was huge. … A pretty gritty win.”

Vegas didn’t show any signs of a hangover following a long pregame celebration that started with players entering T-Mobile Arena on a gold carpet and signing autographs, then watching their first Stanley Cup banner emerge from a giant slot machine on the ice before it was raised into the rafters.

“The slot machine was freaking cool,” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said.

Stone is eager to put another banner in the rafters.

“It’s a memory now, just a great memory,” Stone said. “Some of the funnest hockey we will ever play. But it gives us a sense of urgency. We want to get back there. We know they’re not going to just give it to us. Got to play 82 games to give yourselves the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup and it started (Tuesday).”

William Carrier left Tuesday’s contest in the second period with an upper-body injury and will miss Thursday’s game. Fellow forward Brett Howden will also be out after being suspended two games for an illegal check to the head of Seattle forward Brandon Tanev on Tuesday.