If you call yourself a die hard fan of the San Jose Sharks, you are well aware of Team Teal’s tendency to lose games against inferior opponents. Last season when the Sharks’ 10-year playoff streak was snapped, they were terrible in both games they played against the Hurricanes. They lost at home and were even worse in the road game that they actually won. San Jose won 2-0 in Raleigh but were out-shot 45-19. Only the awesome NHL debut of goaltender Troy Grosenick earned the Sharks the two points.
The Sharks also lost multiple games against teams like Edmonton, Buffalo, Columbus, Florida and Arizona last season but had a winning record against the Pacific Division winning Anaheim Ducks. Playing down to their opponents or taking their opponents lightly, however you want to spin it, the Sharks simply did not get the job done in games where they were supposed to win.
Through eight games this season the Sharks have only played in two of these types of games, winning in New Jersey 2-1 and on Saturday night at home against the Hurricanes 5-2. Of all the positive signs in this 5-3 start for the Sharks, avoiding these let downs against inferior opponents is as big as any other. Those missed points against poor teams last year are a big reason they missed the playoffs. Granted the Sharks didn’t look superb in either these wins against the Devils and ‘Canes but all that matters is getting the points. When the real season starts (the playoffs), there will be no such thing as inferior opponents, so how they actually played against said weak teams won’t matter.
Ending the Skid
Not only is the win over Carolina big because of San Jose’s past struggles against bottom feeding teams, but it ends a three game losing streak. The Sharks are now 5-0-0 with defenseman Paul Martin in the lineup. It is simply amazing the calming veteran presence Martin is on the blue line. Martin is the Yin to Brent Burns’ Yang on that second pairing. Brenden Dillon wasn’t nearly effective in more difficult minutes while Martin missed three games with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Again, it was far from a perfect effort vs Carolina, a team they should beat, but the Sharks as a whole look much more confident when Martin is in the lineup. And you can understand why they would be confident when Martin plays. When Martin is healthy, with him and Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the lineup, the opposing team is going to have a tough go of scoring goals because either of these two will be on the ice against all the top six forwards for the other team. These are two of the best shut-down defenders in the NHL. Martin is a two-time U.S. Olympian and Vlasic played for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics as part of the best pair of that tournament.
We are still early in the NHL season just around 10% through the schedule but ending a skid without it getting too long is important. It may be cliche but two points are two points whether in October or March, and with teams like Anaheim and Calgary struggling in the division, San Jose would benefit from putting as much space between them in the standings as possible right now. Those two teams, especially Anaheim, are bound to get hot at some point over 82 games, so if the Sharks can continue their strong play when healthy early on this season, that will be a big boost for their playoff hopes. The Sharks also have a home heavy second half of their schedule, so it will be tough for division opponents to catch them if they can get out to an early lead.