After a raucous come-from-behind victory over the Boston Bruins last Thursday, San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski admitted: It had been a long time since he had heard the crowd at the Tank get excited for Team Teal.
“It was great in the third period, we heard that ‘Let’s Go Sharks!’ and that’s probably the first time we’ve heard that all year!” Pavelski said with a self-deprecating smile. “That’s on us as players. That we haven’t created that kind of atmosphere.”
In fact, the atmosphere created by the Sharks in the first stretch of the season was one not so familiar to the South Bay franchise. The team played poorly enough that the home fans in San Jose either weren’t showing up, or booing their own team. While this phenomenon surely isn’t foreign to my colleagues from the East Coast, who are accustomed to more critical fan bases, I was downright shocked when I heard jeers floating up into the SAP Center press area. Bay Area sports fans are incredibly forgiving of their sports teams, and if the Sharks are getting booed, there’s a serious problem.
Since Thursday’s cheer-filled win, the Sharks extended their winning streak to four games with a win over the Flames in Calgary, then had said streak snapped by the Oilers in a less-than-inspiring Sunday performance that ended Edmonton’s 11-game losing skid. With a five-game homestand kicking off this Tuesday, we wonder if the Sharks have learned what they need to do to be successful, or if they’re due for another long stretch without hearing the San Jose crowd singing their praises.
A rematch with the Oilers on Tuesday unfortunately holds low expectations, since the Sharks showed in Sunday’s meeting that they still have a bad habit of playing down to bottom-of-the-barrel competition. Outside of Tommy Wingels’ hit on Oiler Tyler Pitlick in the first period, the Sharks didn’t look threatening for the better part of that game. While the fatigue of playing a back-to-back on the road can be taken into consideration, San Jose can’t be reserving the effort to notch four-plus goals for tilts with better teams. They were outshot 11-2 in the first frame on Sunday, putting almost no pressure on netminder Ben Scrivens. Granted, Sunday’s performance was better than when Scrivens pitched a 59-save shutout against San Jose last season. But if the Sharks want to hear their fans cheer this week, they will have to grab a bottle of whatever they were sipping on during the second stanza of the game against Boston and show Edmonton who’s boss.
Games later in the week should be more interesting, with the Wild coming into town on Thursday and the Predators on Saturday. Battles with Minnesota — who are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and defeated the Sharks in their first meet-up back in October — always prove to be entertaining. Saturday will mark the first meeting this season with the Preds, who are currently 7-3-0 in the last 10 games and are only a point behind Chicago in the Central Division standings. These teams are averaging 2.7 and 2.9 goals in their last 10, respectively, which is great if the Sharks are putting the puck in the back of the net four or more times a night. That could be difficult, however, with two forwards who were heating up — Tyler Kennedy and Matt Nieto — sidelined due to injury, cutting into the Sharks’ offensive depth. San Jose has also created a pattern of falling behind early in a game and having to dig their way out of a hole. If they aren’t going to score more than two or three goals per game, getting on the board first might be their best bet in being successful.
Scoring early and not letting lowly teams get the better of them doesn’t seem like too much to ask for. But going by the Sharks’ current track record, this two-week stint at home could either be incredibly successful, or a complete mess.
“There’s a lot of effort that has to go in for (the success) to be there every night,” Pavelski said after the win over Boston. We’ll see if that effort makes an appearance on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, or if the home crowd will be forced to vocally show their disapproval again.