There were reasons to be impressed and frustrated by the San Jose Sharks during their four-game East Coast road trip. In some ways, the journey was a reflection of San Jose’s season at this point. While the desired results weren’t always there, the effort was evident, and there were certainly some good moments.
The Sharks finished the road trip on Feb. 1 in Tampa Bay as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning won 3-2 in overtime. The Sharks have a 12-day break to try to finish getting healthy and try to be consistent enough to make a run for the postseason.
The Pros and Cons of a Tough Journey
How should the Sharks feel about this road trip? Overall, they handled things pretty well, despite some obvious missed chances.
If you subscribe to the old axiom that successful teams win at home and break even on the road, then this was a bad trip for the Sharks. They went 1-1-2 and earned four points in four games, the epitome of .500 hockey. Plus, each of the teams they competed against had winning records, and the Lightning torched the Sharks in San Jose by a score of 7-1 in San Jose.
Add a beat-up blue line for most of the trip and being 3,000 miles from home, and this could have gone far worse. “This whole road trip was gutsy I think,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said after the Lightning game. “We competed with four really good teams in the Eastern Conference, four teams that are near the top of the league. We were in every game. We had that lead in Florida, we were tied late with Carolina, and tonight could’ve gone either way as well.”
But it will be difficult not to think about the missed opportunities. They could have upset the Lightning and had a 3-1 lead against Florida in the third period but settled for a point. A late goal spoiled their chances in Carolina.
It’s hard to be satisfied when there was the chance for more. “We’ve grinded and worked for each other and with each other,” San Jose defenseman Brent Burns said. “Just tough…Close to getting two points a couple of games here. We’ve been keeping games pretty tight. We need two points though, so it’s always frustrating.”
Sharks Blue Line Is Getting Healthy
Perhaps the best news that came out of the Tampa Bay game was the return of two stout defensemen, Mario Ferraro and Jacob Middleton. This settled things down in front of goaltender James Reimer, who seems to have emerged from his recent funk. This led to a solid defensive performance, far better than the Sharks looked in their embarrassing loss to the Lightning at SAP Center on Jan. 22.
Ferraro missed two games after he was injured in the first period of the Sharks’ game with the Florida Panthers, as a shot from forward Owen Tippett ricocheted off his stick and hit him in the face in the first period. He left the game and had oral surgery the next day. Middleton had not played since Jan. 1 against the Red Wings when he suffered an upper-body injury after Detroit Red Wings forward Givanni Smith hit him from behind into the boards behind the Sharks’ net.
The blue line pairings against the Lightning were the strongest the Sharks had put on the ice in weeks: Ferraro-Burns, Jaycob Megna-Nicolas Meloche, Middleton-Marc-Edouard Vlasic. But they will have to do without Erik Karlsson for the next several weeks after his shoulder surgery.
The return of Middleton and Ferraro certainly helped Reimer, who has settled back down after a puzzling stretch in which he was pulled from games three times in four starts. He’s back to his early-season form and hasn’t had a save percentage lower than .900 in the past four games.
Balcers on Offensive Surge
Rudolfs Balcers doesn’t have huge offensive numbers for the Sharks this season, but the 24-year-old left wing has suddenly become a scoring machine. He has six goals this season, but four have come in the past five games, and he’s lit the lamp in two consecutive contests. He also has a five-game scoring streak, with an assist against the Panthers.
Last season he scored eight goals for a career-high. For a team that has often had to rely on its talented top line to generate offensive, his recent surge is very good news.
Where the Sharks Stand
At the long break, the Sharks are 22-20-4 and in fifth place in the Pacific Division. If the playoffs started now, they would miss the final Western Conference wild-card berth by two points.
The even-steven road trip kept them in the thick of things. But having won just one of its last six, the Sharks have to start getting those two points on a regular basis.
Scott Linesburgh has been a sports writer for 35 years, and has spent more than 15 years as a pro hockey beat writer. He has covered some of the biggest sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Indianapolis 500. A native of Long Island, N.Y. who grew up as an Islander fan, Scott cover the San Jose Sharks for THW, and is always looking for the stories beyond the box scores.