Once again the San Jose Sharks have gotten off to a hot start and are an early favorite to go deep in the playoffs. We have seen fast-paced, high-scoring hockey from the Sharks in the friendly confines of their own arena, but more telling has been their play on the road during six of their last seven games. Sure, winning at home is always a plus, but winning on the road is a whole other story. It was one of San Jose’s Achilles heels last season as well (they went 8-14-2) so perhaps the coaching staff has emphasized it this year.
The Sharks better get used to that travel too, considering they own the worst travel schedule in the league in terms of mileage–57, 612 miles once the regular season is over to be exact. Even worse, that is far more than the league average of 41,390.
That play of the road, which included games against formidable opponents such as the St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, saw the Sharks go 5-1-1. This included a span where the Sharks only scored four goals in three games but still managed to gain two wins. So, despite their struggles, even if was just for a few games, they found a way to get it done.
Also, San Jose had to go through its first stretch of back-to-back games this season and as expected were not quite the same team in game two. They looked slower in that latter game against the Ottawa Senators and for the first time were outshot yet still managed a team effort. The defense was solid, Alex Stalock looked great in his first start this season and the offense was clicking on all cylinders. Even the penalty kill chipped in with a goal.
We saw learning moments as well. For instance, against the Boston Bruins the Sharks did not finish the game strong and rather than earning at least a point by taking the game into overtime they allowed a goal with just 0.8 seconds left. One of the key culprits was captain Joe Thornton, whose man ended up getting the game-winning goal on a deflection.
He made amends, as did the rest of the team, by being arguably the best player on the ice in the final 10 minutes of San Jose’s following game against the Canadiens. They finished the game as strongly as we’ve ever seen and there were spans in minutes where the Canadiens did not even get the puck beyond center ice. This team gets it.
Earlier in the road trip the Sharks dealt with a team in the Red Wings that they are modeled after and defeated them by the narrowest of margins in the shootout. This was far from some of their high scoring, back-and-forth affairs (i.e. nine goals against the Rangers), and for the first time, they were held below three goals. Actually, they were shutout until the shootout, but so were the Red Wings. The Sharks showed us they can win the low scoring battles too, and this time it was incredible defense and goaltending from Vezina Trophy finalist Antti Niemi.
We have also seen San Jose’s depth come into play with the absence of many key players, the biggest being Dan Boyle. Even with their top offensive defenseman out for a majority of the road trip we have seen the Sharks continue their wining ways. Brent Burns is another one of those guys who has now missed a few games on this road trip, yet the Sharks have found guys who are worthy of playing on that top line (James Sheppard). Also, do not forget about the highly skilled Martin Havlat who plays in his first game tonight and Raffi Torres who will be out for some time.
With today being the final game of their road trip, the Sharks look to finish strong against one of their biggest rivals in the L.A. Kings. However, we can already say this road swing has been a successful one, and if this is an indicator of how the San Jose Sharks can perform throughout the rest of the season because it would mean the Sharks are not deadly in just their waters anymore.