Where They Stand
The last two games for the San Jose Sharks have been a huge turnaround compared to the rest of the season. While it is not shocking that they beat two of the best teams in the league in Montreal and Vancouver, it is surprising that they were able to do so on back-to-back nights, with travel, and while being forced to play John Scott due to a lack of personnel after the trade deadline. This team still shows no indication of being able to win the Stanley Cup, but they have increased their chances of a playoff berth significantly.
The two victories they secured on Monday and Tuesday gives them 72 points on the season. This amount ties them with the Calgary Flames and the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the division. However, the Sharks are ranked below these two clubs because they have fewer games remaining before the start of the postseason. Both Calgary and Los Angeles have two games in hand on San Jose, meaning they could potentially be four points ahead of the Sharks despite being tied for the time being.
Watching and Waiting
The next NHL game to feature the San Jose Sharks will be on Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks at SAP Center. This means that the team has three full days off between games. This not only allows them to rest up for a difficult four-game homestand next week, but it also helps them get a better idea on where they truly are in the standings.
Both Calgary and Los Angeles will play at least one game during the Sharks’ time off, and luckily for them, they’re facing tough competition. On Thursday night, the Flames and the Kings will play the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens respectively. Calgary has more points than the Bruins at this point in time and beat them in their first matchup of the year. However, the Flames needed overtime to overcome the New England franchise on home ice. This game will be much more difficult for Calgary now that they will have to play away from the Saddledome and be without the use of their captain, Mark Giordano. On the Kings’ side of the matter, they are facing off against the top team in the Eastern Conference and one of the best goaltenders in the league. Montreal has 15 more points than Los Angeles and have already beaten the Southern California squad by a score of 6-2 earlier this year. Given this information, there is a fair chance that both of these Pacific teams will lose to their Eastern foes, therefore relinquishing one of their games in hand for no points in return.
To further improve the Sharks’ hopes at catching their division rivals, both clubs are coming up on rough parts in their schedule. Of Los Angeles’s next five games, four of them come against teams above them in the standings, including contests versus the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. At the same time, Calgary is going through a stretch of playing three games in four nights– all of them on the road. Even though San Jose’s schedule is not much easier than their adversaries, they must convert on this possible opportunity if they want to qualify for the playoffs and keep their postseason streak alive.
The Benefits of Rest
Not only do the days off for San Jose give them a better idea of where they are in the NHL, it also gives them time to prepare for their tough, but vital, homestand. Obviously, the team has the chance to physically rest their bodies; playing two games on back-to-back nights with travel against tough competition is draining. Having a bit of time off before the next game can work wonders on a fatigued player.
In addition to this though, the time off will give Ben Smith the opportunity to actually practice with his new squad. Smith was acquired at the trade deadline on Monday in exchange for Andrew Desjardins and arrived just in time to play in San Jose that night. Immediately after the game, the team travelled north to Vancouver to face the Canucks, giving San Jose’s newest addition no time to acclimate to his new team. Smith has looked good as a Shark so far, but practicing and developing chemistry with his linemates can only improve his play.
The Sharks now have a chance to recover from the horrible February they played through. While I am doubtful that this team will turn into a cup contender, it would be good to make the playoffs this year to give the younger skaters some experience playing in the postseason. This team and their fanbase have suffered a lot this season, but while a Stanley Cup seems out of the question in 2015, improvement now can lead to contention in 2016. San Jose has a pulse.
Drew Weber is a columnist for the San Jose Sharks at The Hockey Writers. He previously wrote articles and appeared on podcasts for Teal Town USA (formerly Pucknology) and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.