Following a disappointing loss to the visiting New York Islanders, a member of the postgame media scrum asked forward Joel Ward if it was a “good thing” that the Sharks were about to start a road trip.
Ward shrugged, cracked a smile and said: “Sure. I mean, yeah, I guess so.”
Leaving the comfortable confines of home isn’t typically a good thing for a team. But the roadie has proven to be good medicine for the club from San Jose.
Team Teal has rolled out three straight victories. None of them have been particularly pretty, from the one-goal win in Detroit to the overtime thriller in Buffalo. You can’t deny that Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the Bruins was one helluva fun game from start to finish, but it definitely got edgy when Boston scored that fourth goal late.
Going from dropping three of four at home to three straight road victories is nothing to sneeze at. So we ask: What’s going right for the Sharks?
From the drop of the puck …
Yes, we are talking about those pesky starts again. Why? Because there is a visible difference in how the Sharks play throughout a game based on how they look in the first couple of minutes.
Even when allowing to get scored on first, like they did last Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings, being quick on their skates from the opening face-off allowed them to rally and fight back much more effectively.
It also doesn’t hurt that San Jose is finding the back of the net once or twice a game, and getting contributions from multiple parts of the lineup.
It’s really amazing what getting Melker Karlsson back in the lineup has done for San Jose’s offense.
Put the young forward back up top with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, rearrange the lines and suddenly San Jose has had contributions up and down the lineup. Pavelski and Patrick Marleau have continued to find the back of the net, while Matt Nieto broke out of his goal slump and both defensemen, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin, have sounded the goal horn.
Heck, Thornton registered his third goal of the season against Boston, his first since October 13. And on the power play, no less.
While we’re on the subject …
The special teams battle
That other thing that San Jose couldn’t seem to fix at home? The power play. But that has gotten clicking on the road as well, after the addition of Vlasic on the top PP unit.
Coach Peter DeBoer said outright at the conclusion of the Sharks last homestand that notching a couple power play goals could have greatly benefited the team. That has played a big role in San Jose’s past three games, not to mention two power play goals in the contest with Boston.
The penalty kill has had its moments on the road. But keep in mind, that kill held off Boston’s league-topping power play late in Tuesday’s tilt against Boston, keeping the Bruins from knotting the match up and taking it into overtime.
You can also thank Martin Jones for making those big saves late, right when the team needed them the most.
I have been pretty emphatic that Jones wasn’t the root of the Sharks’ woes. And he is one of the biggest reasons that San Jose has three straight wins at the moment.
San Jose’s defense hasn’t been the sharpest, which has arguably cost them a goal or two. But Jones has trended upward since the loss to the Isles, and those goals allowed have become fewer and further between. Minimizing the number of soft goals that get by has made it much more impressive when he busts out the highlight-reel-type saves.
Sure, we could dig at the fact that he gave up four goals on Tuesday. But we won’t, because it was still one fewer than the other guy, and Jones did get the win over Tuukka Rask.
It’s no wonder that DeBoer has chosen to have Jones start all three games, even with a back-to-back to start off the trip. Jones plays better when he gets on an uninterrupted streak, and while he might not play every game at the end of this trek away from home, it’s fair to think he’ll be between the pipes to start two of the next three.
Next on tap…
Of course, staying in tune with all of these nuances is pivotal heading into the second half of the trip, especially considering how physical next couple tilts promise to be. The Sharks head to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — games against the Flyers and Pens typically pack a bigger punch — before wrapping up the roadie in Columbus with a rematch against the Blue Jackets.
Plus, San Jose has the benefit of a couple days of practice squeezed in there. This should hopefully keep them from getting too worn down from travel, and help with implementing the positive things that have led them to three straight wins.
Then once that’s wrapped up, it will be time to fret over how the heck they’re going to put that product on home ice, with Chicago coming to town next Wednesday.