The San Jose Sharks are coming out of a six-game long-season home. He concluded on Friday with a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Overall, the homestand proved successful with the Sharks by posting a 4-1-1 record with a 4-0-1 record against West Conference teams.
Now, however, the sharks take to the road and it seems that the trip is bound to charge a toll. For starters, the schedule is dense, with 14 games (starting with the Vancouver game) in 28 days. But that's just part of the challenge.
Sharks have three sets of back-to-back games in the next ten days. After beating Vancouver on Friday with Aaron Dell launching his second consecutive shutout, the Sharks leave for Las Vegas and play Golden Knights on Saturday.
The team heads east after the game in Vegas and returns to play on consecutive nights, facing the Buffalo Sabers on Tuesday night and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. The sharks are in eastern Canada and play for the third time games on consecutive nights. This back-to-back features the Ottawa Senators, followed by the Montreal Canadiens.
Technically, the trip ends in Montreal, when the Sharks fly home after the game. But is it really the end of a trip when your "homestand" is just a game? The schedule organizers send the sharks back from Montreal to the Carolina Hurricanes. This is a three hour time shift going west.
After the game against Carolina, the Sharks' winding road goes east, requiring a two-hour time shift as they travel to face the Dallas Stars. And following the Dallas game, they travel to Arizona to face the Coyotes the next night, scoring the fourth game back in a two-week period.
At this point, the Sharks will have played nine games in 15 days, with all games in a different location than the previous.
The Sharks return to San Jose for a two-game home (facing the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars) before embarking on another long-distance trip (and another two-hour time change). This trip covers only two games, starting against the Chicago Blackhawks and ending against the Minnesota Wild.
On December 20, the sharks return home to confront the Winnipeg jets. Sharks can finally stop living in their suitcases.
The summary of what lies ahead is not beautiful. Over these 28 days, sharks will play 14 games. Only one game will occur in the same place as the game before; None of those venue changes are between "nearby sites". Six times the team will make a timezone change of several hours between games. There are four sets of back-to-back games.
Competitive Questions About Sharks
The quality of the competition over the next four weeks is roughly the league average, perhaps a little above. This is not surprising, the Sharks will play more than 40% of the league teams in this stretch (only Dallas appears twice). Eight NHL teams currently design for more than 100 points, the Sharks will play four of them. No game on the next trip seems easy. On the other hand, there is no team on the road that the Sharks can not beat. Par at best.
Sharks coaches and players will be challenged to do their best. Many questions arise for Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. Does it make sense to play Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns 25 minutes a night in this dense part of the schedule? You expose Joe Thornton and his surgically repaired knees to every game in a row, knowing he broke his knee, which happened in the second straight game.
Should there be a little more use from the bottom of the list, including players who are usually healthy scratches? Which goalkeeper should play the leading role? Can the team overcome the time of limited practice?
This is by far the most difficult travel stretch of the season and one of the toughest in team history, even for a team accustomed to many trips. If there is good news, the travel schedule for the rest of the season is largely sensible when that period is over. If sharks thrive during this part of the timeline, it can provide a big favor for the rest of the season.
But even if the team simply steps on the water, remaining approximately at the same place in the standings (first in the Pacific, with Calgary just behind) and in a similar trajectory of points for the season (current projection of 102 points), it will be a genuine accomplishment . On the other hand, a big stumble and we can only see how hot the place the DeBoer really is.
• Thornton has been a historic machine in recent times, crossing the 1,500 mark and registering its 400th goal. He was honored for those achievements before the game against the Canucks. During the game, Thornton made a pair of assists, going through Mario Lemieux in 11th in the all-time NHL assist list. As long as it stays healthy, the landmarks must continue to roll. He needs five assists to match Marcel Dionne for tenth place of all time. He will need 22 points to tie Teemu Selanne in 15th in this category. And he needs just seven more games to join Steve Yzerman in 18th place in the games played.
• Four former Sharks goalkeepers are playing in the NHL this season, three in backup roles. On Friday, the unusual happened with all four playing the same day. James Reimer, playing for the Florida Panthers, entered the injured Roberto Luongo, but lost against Carolina. Antti Niemi opened the net for Montreal, eventually dropping to Buffalo in overtime. In another overtime game, New York Islanders goalkeeper Thomas Greiss helped his side defeat the New Jersey Devils. And finally, Alex Stalock took Minnesota to a win over Winnipeg. Cumulatively, they saved an impressive number of 128 shots for a reduction of 0.928.