3 Takeaways From Sharks’ Rookie Faceoff Win Over Kings

The San Jose Sharks’ 2023-24 season is officially underway. The team opened the Rookie Faceoff in Las Vegas on Friday, Sept. 15 with a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings. Although it’s only one game, and not all the players involved will be members of the NHL roster during the regular season, a number of takeaways emerged — both positive and negative — to help better understand both the development style of the San Jose coaching staff and the state of the team’s young players.

Sharks Set Tone With Aggression

From the moment the puck dropped to start the first period, the Sharks played with lots of energy and force to try and control the pace of play. On offense, they consistently tried to push the tempo and play with speed, moving quickly and trying to create rushes. Ozzy Wiesblatt and William Eklund both made a number of excellent passes that led to offensive zone attacks. Defensively, the Sharks utilized an aggressive forecheck and played with physicality. Ultimately, this strategy had both positive and negative results. San Jose forced a number of Kings turnovers to create goal-scoring opportunities but also committed too many penalties.

William Eklund San Jose Sharks
William Eklund, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

But in a situation like the Rookie Faceoff, it makes sense for the coaching staff to encourage an aggressive approach. Rookies and other young players need to get adjusted to a fast-paced professional hockey environment, and a preseason showcase centered on youth is the perfect place to do so.

Sharks Penalty Kill Excels While Power Play Struggles

While the Sharks did go to the penalty box too often, they adjusted to shorthanded play beautifully. They didn’t allow any Kings power-play goals, even holding off one 5-on-3 situation. They held strong on the penalty kill, covering their assignments well and playing smart defense. In addition, they stepped up in crunch time, killing a penalty that spanned the end of regulation and the start of overtime. Considering that several of the players on the unit received NHL playing time last season, they could help bolster San Jose’s already-strong penalty kill.

Related: 4 Sharks Prospects Who Could Make Their NHL Debuts in 2023-24

The Sharks power play, unfortunately, was less successful. They failed to score any goals on the man advantage and struggled to get many strong looks at the net. Even worse, a Henry Thrun turnover led to Los Angeles scoring the game’s opening goal shorthanded. If the players in the Rookie Faceoff want to contribute to the power play — as should be expected from some of them — they need to use the rest of the exhibition games to improve.

Georgi Romanov Shines In Net

Although a number of players performed well for the Sharks throughout the game, the clear constant star was goalie Georgi Romanov. He held steady in net in clutch moments and made several excellent saves in precarious situations, finishing with 41 stops in total. Even the first two goals he allowed were primarily the result of breakdowns on the part of the skaters, and the third took an odd deflection. He also came through in the game’s final moments, making a save during the shootout to help secure the win.

The Sharks are looking to gain a clearer long-term understanding of their goaltending situation, and Romanov may be a part of it. The 23-year-old Russian is yet to play a season in North America, but that could be coming this year. If he keeps up his strong work, he may challenge the goalies currently on the San Jose roster or even force the front office to include him in their big-picture plans.

Process Over Results

Although the Sharks certainly prefer to win the games they play in the Rookie Faceoff, their record should not be their main focus. They need to prioritize the development and improvement of the players, and whether or not they are ready to contribute to San Jose relatively soon.

Friday’s game was a good starting point for a much longer process. The Sharks were able to identify areas of strength for the Rookie Faceoff’s participants and places for them to improve. If San Jose’s young players can continue to progress and clean up mistakes — and demonstrate their growth in the rest of the showcase — the franchise will be on the right track and can expect a future in which their youth leads the way.