Everyone expected to see new faces in the Sharks' lineup this season, but this has been a little ridiculous.
When second-line center Joe Pavelski stepped onto the ice Saturday night to face the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, fans at the Shark Tank could have been forgiven for saying...
"Pavelski? How long has he been missing? Wasn't his face on a milk carton?"
Quick recap: In addition to off-season moves that stripped the Sharks of familiar names like Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Christian Ehrhoff, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier and a few other local favorites, the "new-look" Sharks promptly lost Devin Setoguchi, Rob Blake, rookie Ryan Vesce and Pavelski to various injuries.
So for the first month of the NHL season, the Sharks have been shuttling players back and forth from their top minor league affiliate in Worcester, Mass.
Defenseman Joe Callahan was summoned for last Thursday night's game at Detroit when Blake hurt his shoulder. Callahan delivered a fantastic assist for the Sharks' only score in a 1-1 game -- rookie Logan Couture's first-ever NHL goal -- and then was immediately shipped back to the minors.
Considering the overcrowded hospital list, the constant retooling of lines and defensive pairings -- not to mention playing 12 of their first 17 games on the road -- it's a wonder the Sharks haven't sunk out of sight.
Instead, they celebrated their return from yet another road trip on Saturday by simply hammering the champ Penguins 5-0 in a game as one-sided as the score indicates.
Making it even more fun for the sellout crowd, the Pens got a bit nasty about the whole thing late in the game and decided to brawl -- which turned out to be another bad idea as Sharks enforcer Jody Shelley simply beat up Pittsburgh's two bad boys, Jay McKee and Eric Godard.
Oh, and McKee was so anxious to get pummeled that he was penalized for instigating the fight, which led to a power-play goal by one of the Sharks' off-season acquisitions, Manny Malhotra.
Then there was Pavelski, who broke a bone in his foot in the second game of the season, and hasn't played since.
"I kind of had the jitters when I first went out there tonight," Pavelski said after getting a goal and an assist against the Pens. "I hadn't even played a home game yet, so I was kind of nervous until I got skating and hitting."
With all this shifting and changing of personnel, how in the world have the Sharks managed to go 12-4-2 -- including a very respectable 7-4-1 on the road?
"Just like tonight, you have to say it starts with Nabby," said new winger Dany Heatley of goalie Evgeni Nabokov. "He kept us in games at the start of the year when we weren't all that solid, and now we're beginning to play well in front of him."
In fact, Nabokov has sailed through the last seven games without allowing more than two goals -- including overtimes -- and helped the Sharks get a 2-0 first-period jump on the Penguins with an amazing save on a one-time blast from Bill Guerin.
Despite all the juggling, one thing is obvious about this year's Sharks.
General manager Doug Wilson said during the offseason that he wanted to add some "sandpaper" to the Sharks' personality -- making the team tougher for playoff wars in which they've often underachieved.
So far it appears that Wilson found the right kind of guys to play on those gritty third and fourth lines -- the type of grinders who can, for instance, keep Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby off the score sheet through sheer work rate.
Defense-minded center Scott Nichol offered an explanation that no doubt warmed the hearts of Wilson and coach Todd McLellan when asked how the Sharks had schemed to shut out the powerful Pens.
"Keep the puck, throw it in deep behind them and get it back," Nichol said. "Defensemen get tired of having to keep turning around and getting their noses run into the glass.
"You do that shift after shift after shift, teams wear out and then our skill guys will kill them."
Sure enough, that's been a great formula for the first five weeks, on tough trips and against rugged teams.
And maybe there's a hint in here that these Sharks will be more predatory fish come playoff time.
Steve Cameron is a freelance columnist for the Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.