Sharks rookies off to a great start, but now comes hard part
MONTREAL — Sharks rookies William Eklund, Jasper Weatherby, and Jonathan Dahlen all enjoyed positive starts to their respective NHL careers.
Now, what can these young guys do for an encore?
With the emotion and euphoria of their first NHL games now in the rear-view mirror, Eklund, Weatherby and Dahlen — and every other Shark player — now has to settle into the grind of the regular season, starting with a five-game, eight-day road trip that gets underway Tuesday in Montreal against the Canadiens.
While it may have been easy for everyone in teal to get hyped up for Saturday's season-opener — in front of an enthusiastic home crowd — the younger players now have to learn to bring that same energy on a near-daily basis against the best players in the world.
"We've got to put that behind us," Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. "It's about, in this league, doing it consistently night in and night out."
The Sharks went 10-15-3 away from home last season and haven't finished above .500 in any road trip of four or more games since Feb. 2019 when they swept a Western Canadian swing through Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
"Part of the challenge that we're going to have to work on," Boughner said, "is making sure that we bring that foundation and that structure to the game every night."
Boughner said a few players mentioned to him that they had trouble falling asleep after the game Saturday with the adrenalin still pumping from the win.
Perhaps Eklund and Weatherby were in that group after they picked up their first NHL points against the Jets. Eklund and Weatherby both assisted on Tomas Hertl's third-period power-play goal and Weatherby also had a second-period goal with the man advantage.
Dahlen played close to 15 minutes against the Jets and nearly had a goal of his own in the third period.
Eklund, 19, appeared tentative to start the game but settled in after the first period. He finished with 14:01 of ice time as he and linemates Hertl and Rudolfs Balcers combined for four points and six shots on goal.
"I was a little nervous at the beginning. I was trying to find my game," Eklund said. "I got better and better throughout the whole game, I think."
Eklund also dodged a few big hits Saturday, namely one by former Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon in the first period as he came across the Jets' blue line.
"Yeah, I expect that to happen," Eklund said. "But I try to avoid those hits as best I can."
Being a target could be par for the course early in the season for the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Eklund, as teams try to test him on a physical level,
"I'll give him credit. You could tell (Winnipeg's) game plan was to be physical with him and try to run him a little bit," Boughner said. "It took him a period or so to adjust to the timing and not having as much time as he had in the preseason. And if you put him on Tommy Hertl's line, he's going to see (the opposition's) best (defense) pair on a lot of nights.
"But toward the second half of that game, he started getting confident, that he's going to get better. Now that he's got the first one over with, that takes a lot of pressure off of him as well."
Weatherby will try to build on his two-point debut, which included a pretty shot — high glove side — past Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Weatherby, 23, played 10:25 and won four of seven faceoffs as he centered a line with Andrew Cogliano and Lane Pederson.
With the Sharks now on the road for five games and not having last change, opposing teams might try to look for matchup advantages — if they can get them — against a less-experienced center like Weatherby,
But the North Dakota product hasn't felt overwhelmed so far.
"Once you get out there and the puck drops, the butterflies kind of go away and you're just playing hockey," Weatherby said. "I mean, I've done it for a long time now."
After Tuesday, the Sharks' road trip continues with games Thursday in Ottawa, Friday in Toronto, Sunday in Boston, and Tuesday in Nashville.
"It'll be really cool," Eklund said of his first NHL road trip. "It'll be fun to be there."