SAN JOSE, Calif. - From the blue-line to behind the bench, the San Jose Sharks' three most important newcomers set an awfully high standard during their debuts in teal.
Rob Blake had two assists, fellow defenceman Dan Boyle added another while quarterbacking a sharp power play, and new coach Todd McLellan presided over an altogether dominant effort in the Sharks' 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night.
Although Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals and Evgeni Nabokov took a shutout into the final minutes, the sold-out Shark Tank was roiling because of the changes exemplified by Blake, Boyle and McLellan, three former Stanley Cup winners gathered in San Jose to inject veteran tenacity and smarts into a club that has never reached hockey's highest levels.
"I don't know if there's anything close to a perfect game, but it was a nice feeling when the buzzer went," McLellan said. "Throughout camp, we never had a chance to play our full team (because of injuries), but some of the principles we stressed during camp were showing up out there on the ice, and that's great to see."
Christian Ehrhoff and Devin Setoguchi also had goals as McLellan's revamping of the defending Pacific Division champions got off to a strong start. San Jose thoroughly outplayed its longtime rival for lengthy stretches, outshooting the Ducks 41-29 and barely making a defensive mistake until the final period.
San Jose also got a promising start from Cheechoo, who slammed home a rebound of Boyle's shot early in the second period before adding a power-play goal 4:12 later with an assist from Blake. Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer with 56 in 2006, but had just 23 last season while struggling with injuries.
"You look how talented and fast our forwards are, and our job is to get the puck in their hands and then follow the play," said Blake, who's in his 19th NHL season. "(Anaheim) got a little behind by taking some penalties, and it throws you off your rhythm when that happens."
Rob Niedermayer scored with 5:25 left to finally beat Nabokov, who made 28 saves. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 37 saves for the Ducks, who are hoping for one more Stanley Cup run for much of the core from the 2007 NHL champions.
But the Ducks were far too sloppy for most of the final two periods, repeatedly putting the Sharks on power plays led by Blake and Boyle, who moved the puck with the flair he perfected during his lengthy stay in Tampa Bay. San Jose hopes Boyle will be its long-sought answer to Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer, whose puck-moving skills and clever defence have bedeviled the Sharks for years.
"They came at us and worked the power play after the first goal," Scott Niedermayer said. "Both teams were playing tight until then. You're not going to win many hockey games when you give the puck away. We should be able to deal with a bad play and stay with our game plan, but we got away from that."
McLellan was the Detroit Red Wings' power play guru as an assistant coach during their Stanley Cup-winning run last year, and his skills were evident in the Sharks' lively movement and passing. The growth was particularly obvious in the second period, when San Jose outshot Anaheim 21-3, aided by a series of power plays.
"We like to play on the edge, and I love that we play that way," Giguere said. "At the same time, we need to keep our mouths shut and stop yapping at the officials. They're not all bad calls. We have to take it upon ourselves to be more disciplined."
Cheechoo scored his first goal in a sequence started by Joe Pavelski, who deflected a clearing pass that was gathered up by Milan Michalek and fed to Boyle. Michalek finished with two assists.
Notes: Hours before the opener, San Jose released veteran F Jeff Friesen from his tryout contract. Friesen, who spent his first 6 1/2 seasons with the Sharks before getting traded to Anaheim for Selanne, was attempting to return to the club after spending last season out of the NHL. ... The Sharks scratched C Marcel Goc, who has a sore back. ... Cheechoo's last two-goal game was Feb. 9 against Nashville.