The San Jose Sharks started this season similar to the way they started last season. The difference however, is how they responded to their first loss. Last year they won seven straight games to start the year but then lost seven straight. This year they only won six straight before losing in a shootout to the Dallas Stars, but have proceeded to win four of five since then. They have shown the bounce back that was not there in last season’s campaign, and what’s most impressive is that they’ve done it on the road.
After the loss to the Stars, they beat the Calgary Flames at home and then embarked on a five game road trip. Four games in and they have collected three impressive wins, with the only loss coming in the final second of regulation in Boston. They’ve beaten the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators by playing the same way they did during the first six games of the season; playing fast, shooting the puck, and taking care of the puck in their own zone. This road success has also come despite playing without injured forward Brent Burns and star defenseman Dan Boyle. Although he will not likely stay on the line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl when Burns returns, James Sheppard has stepped up in Burns’ absence. Against the Senators he had a goal and an assist, showing glimpses of the player that the Minnesota Wild drafted six years ago. Sheppard however, was not the only Shark to step up on Sunday in Ottawa. Eleven players on the team registered at least one point, and none of them were named Patrick Marleau or Logan Couture. That’s called balance, and it will be huge for this team going forward.
The road trip has also shown that the Sharks can win close and low scoring games, as opposed to the blow outs they were handing out the first two weeks of the season. Their first win of the road trip came in a zero-zero contest in Detroit that had to be decided in a shootout, and the second came in a two to zero win in Montreal. In a perfect world they would score five goals a game, but considering their injuries and the law of averages, they have to be able to play well in tight contests. Rest will also be a key for this team going forward; especially in net. We cannot expect Antti Niemi to play 95 percent of the games this year, and with the Olympics coming up, he could log significantly more ice time than he’s accustomed to. Thankfully for the Sharks, Alex Stalock proved to them that he is a worthy backup. Stalock played very well in Ottawa, only allowing two goals on 40 shots. It’s a great sign that the first game Niemi doesn’t play in is also the first game that the Sharks were outshout, and they still win the game.
Maintaining their success on the road will not only help the Sharks rack up points, but will also give them confidence when playing away games in the playoffs. As well as they’ve played this season, a win in Los Angeles on Wednesday would be even more impressive considering their struggles getting the puck past Jonathan Quick in last year’s playoffs. With two days rest, look for the Sharks to come out strong in Los Angeles, where they may also be welcoming back Boyle and Burns to the lineup.