SAN JOSE -- The first question of camp was answered as soon as fans saw the Sharks hit the ice Sunday as the NHL attempted to get back to business as usual.
The 400 or so gathered at Sharks Ice welcomed their team back from the lockout with loud cheers and a standing ovation. The gathering was small compared with the thousands who showed up elsewhere around the NHL, but appreciative players offered a stick salute from center ice.
"Some places are more forgiving than others," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Hopefully, we're one of those places."
There are bigger questions surrounding the Sharks, of course, as the team regroups after a disappointing 2011-12 season in which they barely made the playoffs, then were sent packing by the St. Louis Blues in five games.
"I'd like our players to still have last year in the back of their minds," coach Todd McLellan said, "but I'd also like them to move forward." Not every question will be answered before next Sunday's opener at Calgary. But here are five worth asking as the lead-up to a 48-game journey begins.
1. What shape is everybody in after a 113-day lockout?
McLellan's top priority for this week is getting his players into game shape. That goes beyond body fat percentages.
"After today and looking at the group, most of the players have come back in very good condition," he said. "It's more about timing."
He defines that as "reading and reacting, jumping to holes at the
But is a one-week camp enough time?
"It'll be our job as coaches to get them as close to that point as possible," McLellan said.
2. Who occupies the blue line?
With the addition of veteran Brad Stuart, the Sharks like their defensive depth when healthy. But as training camp opened, two of those defensemen -- Jason Demers (wrist) and Brent Burns (groin) -- didn't participate in drills, and a third, Justin Braun (hand), skated only part of the time.
Demers and Braun both indicated they expect to be back soon, while Burns declined to address his situation. In any case, without them, the Sharks will be relying on untested prospects -- and if that doesn't work, veterans brought in by general manager Doug Wilson.
The names at the top of the Worcester list are Matt Irwin and Matt Tennyson, but Nick Petrecki and Matt Pelech also are in the competition.
3. Can the Sharks fix their penalty kill?
Stats don't always tell the story, but San Jose's short-handed performance (76.9 percent, 29th in NHL, and an even worse 66.7 percent in the playoffs) definitely requires an overhaul.
To that end, two former NHL defensemen -- Hall of Famer Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson -- were added to the coaching staff.
Both graciously have said the system in place wasn't a big problem and that with a few tweaks, things should be fine. But quietly they are implementing a more aggressive system designed to do a better job of keeping everybody on the same page.
4. Does James Sheppard have a future in San Jose?
Sheppard, 24, made the jump from junior hockey to the NHL after the Minnesota Wild made him the ninth player drafted in 2006. He never reached his potential there, then tore up his knee in an offseason accident.
The Sharks acquired him in July 2011 for a third-round draft choice, then waited for his knee to heel. This year, he is doing well in Worcester.
Sheppard knows this is his chance to pay back the Sharks for their patience.
"They know that I've worked hard," he said, "and I know they've given me opportunities and stayed with me without seeing me play a game for their team."
5. So, really, who are these guys?
Forget about names and biographies. McLellan wants his players to re-establish their identity as a hockey team.
"I'd like us to be a faster team, I'd like us to be a harder team to play against, and I'd like us to be a supportive team," McLellan said Sunday. "I want us to play together and not go off on our own at times and play as individuals."
The challenge for his revamped coaching staff is doing all that with essentially the same cast, as Stuart and forward Adam Burish were the only players added from outside the organization.
For more on the Sharks, visit blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow David Pollak on Twitter@PollakOnSharks.