The San Jose Sharks’ roster has been set and the team is ready to kick-off the season. In order for the Sharks to set an early tone, a strong start in October is critical if the team is looking to make another run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Establish Road Dominance
A big reason San Jose made the playoffs last season was their road record. With an NHL-best 28-10-3 record away from home, the points proved valuable down the stretch. The Sharks seemed more comfortable establishing their game in visiting arenas under first-year coach Peter DeBoer.
To start the season, San Jose will play five straight road games after the season opener at home against Los Angeles. This gives the Sharks an opportunity to re-establish their road warrior identity. With 13 games on the road in the first two months, the Sharks could find themselves in a hole early if they are unable to bank points.
In their first road trip, games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins stand out. Columbus has always challenged the work ethic of the Sharks. The Blue Jackets have a tendency to make the Sharks pay for the smallest mistake. An early test with John Tortorella’s team will show how prepared San Jose is for the upcoming season.
With a roster containing almost all of last season’s squad, San Jose will want some early revenge against Pittsburgh. The Stanley Cup Final left a few current Sharks bitter after falling short of the prize. Revenge may be on their minds, but with a new season, the business of leaving with two points is more important. Pittsburgh could be without Sidney Crosby who was recently diagnosed with a concussion and his return is unclear.
Detroit will be San Jose’s final visit on the five-game road stand. The rivalry between the two has lost some lust with the Red Wings now in the Eastern Conference. Although the two do not see each other frequently, both teams carry a history of spirited contests from the regular season and the playoffs.
Do Not Upset Fans at Home
Road success was great for San Jose but left fans at SAP Center disgruntled. An 18-20-3 record at home was baffling with the dominance the Sharks put on away from home. They were unable to replicate road performances at home, resulting in empty seats throughout the Shark Tank.
The Sharks need to make the Tank tough for opponents. The past two seasons have seen opponents come in and leave with two points. Players are aware playing better at home is important in order to start the season on the right foot. Should dominance at home be established, playoff hopes will reach a whole new level.
San Jose will play 11 games at home in the first two months of the season. Los Angeles is the home opener who will look to start the Sharks’ season on a sour note. Matchups against Nashville and Pittsburgh highlight the early home games. Also, the Chicago Blackhawks come the day before Thanksgiving, an always-tough Western Conference opponent.
Two (Perhaps Three) Important Factors
Power-play and goaltending will be crucial for San Jose’s early success. With the addition of Mikkel Boedker in the offseason, the Sharks’ top two lines will look to find the net frequently. Boedker will be on the Sharks’ first power-play unit, as the 26-year-old is about to enter his prime years.
Core players Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture will be important in establishing the power-play attack. Expect shots on net as well as passes to the point for Brent Burns to fire one off. A versatile puck moving defenseman in new addition David Schlemko will also allow Burns to move around freely. Expect Schlemko to quarterback the power-play.
Martin Jones gave San Jose solid goaltending last season, leading the franchise to their first Stanley Cup appearance. Jones needs to find his form early and prove he was not a one-hit wonder as a starter. Now in his second year as the undisputed number one, Jones may have to steal a few early wins for the Sharks.
Aaron Dell got the vote of confidence from coaches as the backup goaltender. His play will be under the microscope as he will have to show Sharks management he can be reliable. Should Dell struggle early, expect Wilson to pull the trigger in trading for a goalie.
Smart Move Going with Veteran Lineup
Looking at the roster moves to finalize the lineup before opening night, Barclay Goodrow not making the cut was surprising. Goodrow had an outstanding performance with the San Jose Barracuda last season. He turned that success into a solid training camp, hoping to stay in the NHL full-time. However, he was assigned to the Barracuda where hopefully a call-up comes during the season.
The other surprise was seeing Timo Meier on the initial roster. Most likely the rookie will start with the Barracuda as he recovers from mono. Meier needs time to develop in the AHL before getting called up to the Sharks. Rest assured, Meier will make his way to the NHL at some point this season.
Chances are Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels will see their time in San Jose run out should the two be unproductive. By keeping the two along with a veteran lineup, the Sharks are suited to have success early in the season.
By sending young players Kevin LaBanc, Nikolay Goldobin, and Goodrow to the AHL, their growth will be more prosperous in the future. All three forwards are deserving of a top-six forward position. However, the Sharks’ main core is currently holding the coveted spots.
If the three remained on the team, third and fourth line pairings would spurn their development playing fewer minutes. On the Barracuda, the three will occupy the top lines and develop into the future core of the Sharks.
All systems go for the San Jose Sharks. Defeat from the Finals has left the players hungry to get back and finish the job this time. The players have bought into DeBoer’s style of play which should make for smooth operations from the start. Expect a re-energized fan base rocking the Shark Tank this season.