Spending a long two weeks on the road is difficult enough … let alone a long road trip at the end of the regular season with a playoff spot still out of reach. On paper, it’s another fly in the Sharks’ ointment. Another fiery hoop for them to jump through during a season full of obscure obstacles.
But following San Jose’s 6-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday, Logan Couture told the media: “We’ve put ourselves in this position. We’ve got to go and win the majority of our games, and we’ve got a nice long road trip to do it …”
The quote stuck in my head all weekend because, really, “nice” wouldn’t have been the first word that came to mind when discussing the haul that Team Teal will make across Canada and then the Eastern states. Especially with every game essentially being a must-win, starting off with a matchup against a Winnipeg Jets team they must leapfrog in the standings in order to keep their playoff hopes afloat.
However, with the difficulties playing at home this 2014-15 campaign and the recent off-ice drama that hit the team last week, maybe the long road trip for the Sharks at the tail end of the season isn’t such a bad thing.
Yes, it’s hard to believe that a long stint away from the South Bay would be a good thing for a team. Remember how much we blamed the long roadie at the start of the season for causing fatigue and losses? But with how difficult it’s been for the Sharks to win at home, maybe some time outside of San Jose is a good thing. It’s an understatement that SAP Center hasn’t been quite as kind to the Sharks this season, even when you consider that they busted out of their February slump to rack up wins against the Canadiens, Penguins and Predators in the month of March. One of the few blots on San Jose’s stretch this month is that they ended things on a bit of a sour note Saturday afternoon when Chicago scored four unanswered goals in the third frame to take away any chance of San Jose securing any much-needed points on the evening.
Yet when discussing the game afterward, players were collectively happy with the first 40 minutes of play against the Blackhawks, and were more interested in taking the good out of that Saturday game and turning it into success on the up-and-coming roadie. Defenseman Brenden Dillon said this part of the season requires a “short-term memory” and that dwelling on single games isn’t a good mindset. Maybe a road trip with little down time will be a catalyst in keeping the Sharks in that frame of mind.
The desire to maintain that “short-term memory” mindset could also help the team shut out the “war of words” that took the spotlight just before the Sharks ended their home stand against Chicago. Of course, it’s not like anyone in that dressing room would ever admit that last week’s installment in the debacle between Doug Wilson and Joe Thornton had any affect on how the team played on Saturday. The general consensus was that the off-ice matters were not a distraction.
“We show up, we play… Our job is to play,” said Joe Pavelski. “I think if you watch our play early (against Chicago), you can see that it wasn’t a distraction.”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the road trip away from San Jose will make the frenzy around the off-ice issue go away. Actually, the Canadian press will probably ask even more questions about it in the first four games of the Sharks’ trek. But perhaps the constant travel with games every other night will help take the focus off of some of the extraneous topics, and keep it on winning hockey games.
A lot could happen on this seven-game trip. It’s a matter now of the Sharks making good things happen before they return to San Jose.