The San Jose Sharks will play their first home game of the season Saturday after five weeks on the road because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Sharks return to SAP Center against the Vegas Golden Knights and former San Jose coach Peter DeBoer (4 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV).
San Jose (5-6-1) played its first 12 games on the road because of restrictions in Santa Clara County, California, that included a ban on contact sports.
“If we can have a good winning record at home, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to be in that Stanley Cup Playoff spot … that has to be our goal,” San Jose captain Logan Couture said.
The Sharks last played at home March 8, 2020, a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The NHL paused its season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus four days later, and San Jose was not among the 24 teams to compete in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
“This is the first time we’ve been back, or at least I’ve been back, at SAP Center since last March,” Couture said, “so it took me a little bit to get my bearings walking around our room. The seating arrangement is obviously a lot different now since you’ve got guys kind of spread out all over this place with the new rules, but it’s nice to be back.”
The Sharks were supposed to play as the home team in two games against the Golden Knights at Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, on Feb. 1 and 3. But those games were postponed after Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and three Vegas coaches were placed in NHL COVID-19 protocol, and they will now be played at San Jose.
If not for the postponements, the Sharks would have been away for seven weeks since leaving the Bay Area for training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Dec. 30. They were able to practice for four days at Solar4America Ice at San Jose from Feb. 1-4.
Because of the schedule changes, San Jose will play 28 of its remaining 44 games at home.
“No one else has gone through this kind of adversity, so we’ve got to take advantage of some of our home games,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “I think the biggest thing from a coaching standpoint is trying to get better matchups and being able to put the right guys on the ice at the right times.”
DeBoer will be coaching for the first time against San Jose since he was fired by the Sharks on Dec. 11, 2019. He was hired to replace Gerard Gallant as coach of the Golden Knights on Jan. 15, 2020.
“To see him [and former Sharks assistant Steve Spott] over there is going to be different,” Couture said. “Those guys are great people, great hockey coaches, and I still keep in touch with them. I consider them good friends. We had a lot of good times together, a few good years, some great runs.”
DeBoer was 198-129-34 in five seasons with San Jose, including the Sharks’ first Stanley Cup Final in 2016, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
“Those are two guys that you pull for and you want them to be successful, no matter where they go, but not tomorrow,” Couture said. “Not when they play us. We’d love to beat them.”
Vegas (8-2-1) leads the Honda West Division and is 4-1-1 in its past six games.
“We all know how Pete DeBoer’s team plays and vice versa,” said Boughner, who was an assistant under DeBoer in San Jose. “Vegas is one of the best teams, if not the best team, on our side, and we have to come up with a 60-minute performance. It’ll be nice to do that as our first home game of the year.”
The Sharks host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and then play at the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 18 and 20 before returning to SAP Center for a seven-game homestand, beginning Feb. 25 against Vegas.
“I think we have to make sure that we worry about our own game, doing the right things with the puck and making good decisions,” Boughner said. “There were some good things on the road trip, but now it’s time to come home and make sure that we’re playing our best.”
With a heavy home schedule the rest of the way, Couture said it’s imperative the Sharks rise to the occasion.
“We have to defend home ice,” he said. “It’s going to be different without our fans, and that’s tough and something we wish wasn’t the case, but we’re looking forward to playing. We need to take care of business.”