Less than a week ago, the San Jose Sharks were coming off a largely successful homestand, posting a 4-1-1 record and sporting an overall record on pace for a 102-point season. Erik Karlsson was starting to produce like everyone expected, and Aaron Dell had posted back-to-back shutouts.
And then the Sharks hit the road.
The Sharks’ Road Trip
A blowout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights was not what the team expected. Sure, blowout losses happen every season and they seem to come out of nowhere. But this was a Sharks team supposedly on a roll. Instead, Vegas looked much like a team headed towards the top of the standings; perhaps for good reason. They’ve gotten top defenseman Nate Schmidt back into their lineup, and Max Pacioretty is finally healthy and contributing in a major way.
To be blunt, the Sharks didn’t match up to Vegas.
On their next stop, the Sharks faced the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres entered the contest as the hottest team in the league, riding a nine-game win streak. Alas, there is a smoke and mirrors component to the Sabres run. Eight of the nine wins were by one goal, and six were tied at the end of regulation. The Sabres were playing even hockey during regulation, then dominating what happens after 60 minutes. Against the Sharks, the formula repeated. The Sabres jumped to a 2-0 lead, scoring quick-strike goals on both occasions. The Sharks got a pair of late goals from Joe Pavelski to even the game and send it into overtime. Naturally, the Sabres scored to earn their 10th consecutive victory, still only three in regulation.
The following night, the Sharks went to Toronto and were beaten for the second time in two weeks by the Maple Leafs. Toronto potted three power play goals on the way to victory, leading by at least two scores for all of the second and third periods. In the game two weeks ago, Toronto scored the game’s final three goals. Both games ended with the final score of 5-3. And both games, there was little doubt about the better team.
There is not a lot going right for the Sharks at the moment. Pavelski is perhaps the lone bright spot, as he has scored three goals in the three road games. The rest of the team has combined for two.
How Quickly Things Change in Sharks Territory
The 0-2-1 record on the road trip means the Sharks have dipped in the standings. Their recent stint leading the Pacific Division has ended; they’ve fallen to second. More meaningfully, though, they’ve now got teams very close to them in the standings. Two teams trending in the positive direction, the Anaheim Ducks and Golden Knights, could soon pass the Sharks in the standings. And the Sharks are now on pace for 92 points, typically not enough for a playoff spot.
The final two games of the road trip come against slumping teams. Next up are the Ottawa Senators and Karlsson returns to the site of his former glory. The following night, the Sharks face the Montreal Canadiens. Both opponents are on downward trajectories, giving the Sharks an opportunity to gain back some lost ground. But this Sharks team seems intent on proving that nothing is going to come easy.
Pick a Sharks History
Some take solace in the 2015-16 Sharks team which sported an 18-18-2 record before a strong second half led them to the playoffs and a run to the Stanley Cup Final. But it’s just as easy to point out the 2016-17 campaign, where the Sharks were in a close race for the top seed in the Western Conference before a 5-9-2 skid (beginning in March) dropped the team to third in their division.
In the season’s early going, the Sharks had distinct advantages in roster health and continuity. They aren’t in a hole, but they failed to separate themselves from the pack in the weak Pacific Division when they had these advantages. As a result, they’ve left themselves much less room for error over the remainder of the season. History may repeat itself, but it’s fair to ask, which history?
• I don’t put much stock in postgame interviews, but it was worth noting the contrasting responses from Logan Couture and head coach Peter DeBoer following the loss to Toronto. They were asked similar questions about the Sharks being able to ‘put it together’ and compete with the league’s top teams. Couture said, “I don’t think we’re close,” while DeBoer offered a terse challenge to the reporter, saying, “I think we can; you don’t think we could compete with those guys tonight?” Whatever ‘competing’ means, the Sharks have been outscored in the last three games by a 14-5 total.
• The Sharks have a bunch of top players with a plus/minus below minus-5, and it is a shocking list: Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic (a team-worst minus-10), Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl. Each of these players has a cap hit over $5 million. The Sharks’ plus/minus leader is Timo Meier at plus-4.