Bay Area

Sharks camp news: Raffi Torres returns, grit goes up

The San Jose Sharks opened training camp on September 18 with a new head coach, Peter DeBoer, a core of tested veterans, and a complementary group of new players like goaltender Martin Jones. Through a week of practice and three preseason games (2-1 record), the Sharks have shown they have the ingredients in place to make a run at a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Below are notes form the first week of camp.

Torres returns

Raffi Torres played in the Sharks’ 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, and the SAP Center crowd welcomed him enthusiastically when he was announced as a starter alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Seven months removed from his most recent – and third overall – surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, Torres hadn’t played a game in over 16 months. He ended up playing 10:01 minutes across 17 shifts, most of them alongside fellow grinders Bryan Lerg and Mike Brown.

Torres is a catalyst for the Sharks, and can change the entire complexion of the game with his hustle, grit, and speedy two-way play. He gave an indication of how his presence has been missed early on Friday with a crushing hit on the Coyotes’ Niklas Grossman just three minutes in.

Matching up physically

Torres adds a gritty, physical side to the Sharks lineup, as does running mate Brown, who has never been shy to take on opponents’ heavyweights. Added to the Sharks’ roster in camp has been the return of former Shark and fairly renown NHL tough guy Frazier McLaren.

On this Sharks team, it’s difficult to see McLaren, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, making the opening night roster (he played all of last season in the minor leagues with the Toronto Marlies), but as a member of the Sharks new San Jose-based AHL affiliate, he will be around town for quick call ups to match the physical presence of Pacific Division foes.

In the offseason, the Vancouver Canucks traded for Brandon Prust, the Los Angeles Kings traded for Milan Lucic, the Anaheim Ducks signed Brian McGrattan, and former Shark John Scott and Steve Downie signed with the Arizona Coyotes. That’s a big group of agitation for opposing skaters.

Does a physical presence matter in today’s NHL? It depends. Physical play is still vitally important. Fighting, on the other hand, is decreasing year over year. But, consider this: despite being lampooned in the press and by fans, Scott proved his worth on the Sharks – on a team that missed the playoffs, the Sharks were 21-12-5 in games where Scott suited up.

3-on-3 overtime to add new excitement

In the preseason, all teams are getting used to the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime rule, and the Sharks seem to be taking an immediate liking to it.

Teams are playing an overtime period at the end of each preseason game to get acclimated to the change. By removing on player from each side in overtime, it creates much more free ice, but also increases the importance of smooth and timely shifts to avoid odd-man rushes going the other direction.

In Tuesday’s game, the Vancouver Canucks scored 1:39 into the extra stanza for the win. Friday night, after winning 3-1 in regulation, the Sharks’ Ben Smith scored to end the practice overtime.

The league mandated the change to minimize the number of games decided by a shootout. Last season, only 44.4 percent of tied games were decided in overtime. In comparison, the AHL played 3-on-3 last season and saw 75 percent of its overtime games decided before the shootout.

The Sharks generally struggled in overtime last season, going 2-3 in overtime and 4-6 in shootouts.

Donskoi lights lamp for the first time

Earlier in the month, rookie forward Joonas Donskoi impressed in prospect games against the Anaheim Ducks. Friday night, Donskoi got a chance to skate with Pavelski and Thornton on the top line, and he made the most of it with a power-play goal in the third period. It was Donskoi’s first goal as a Shark, and gave the coaching staff an indicator of his high potential upside as a offensive contributor.

Photo Link:  Scot Tucker/SFBay

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Ray Hartjen

A Public Relations pro by day, by night @RayHartjen follows parallel - yet somehow still often conflicting - paths searching for hair metal guitar legend status, a career as a journeyman 4th line center in the NHL, and the treasured laminates to be a hanger-on in the circus that is Formula 1.
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