5 Games That Will Define San Jose Sharks 2013 Season
The 2012-13 NHL—wait, no scratch that, 2013 NHL season—will certainly be missing a lot.
The grind of a long schedule. The All-Star Game. The Winter Classic. Out of conference play and a total of 1,020 games.
Common sense says that there will also be a shortage of big season-defining games. That may be true, but a 100 percent intra-conference schedule certainly gives each game within the 48-game slate more average importance than a game does during an 82-game season.
So while the NHL Lockout deprived us fans and writers of nearly half an NHL season, the end of the lockout looks to provide us with a healthy diet of great regular season hockey.
January 24: Coyotes at Sharks
Regardless of whether or not they enter their home opener with two, three or four points, the San Jose Sharks will have a lot to prove.
For one, the team will be playing it's first game on home ice since an uninspiring Game 4 loss to the St. Louis Blues last April. The loss was one of only two miserable playoff performances the HP Pavilion crowd had to endure (because the Sharks were eliminated in five games), but it was also one of many underwhelming performances during a disappointing season.
Also, the Sharks should be especially motivated to beat the Coyotes, a division foe that not only beat San Jose four out of six times last season (including three shutouts), but also ended the Sharks run of four consecutive Pacific Division titles.
Even if the Sharks are 2-1-0 and in first place after this game, another loss to Mike Smith and Phoenix would set an ominous tone for the season.
February 19: Sharks at Blues
The San Jose Sharks were not a great team in 2011-12. They were barely a good team. Still, they could not have possibly had worse luck in round one of the playoffs.
If Phoenix had lost any of their final five games, the Sharks would have won the division and faced Chicago and Nashville—with home ice—during the first two rounds. If the Sharks lost to the Kings on the season's final day, they would have faced a Daniel Sedin-less Canucks team in round one.
Instead, the Sharks drew the St. Louis Blues, who swept the four-game season series in regulation, allowing three goals in total. Predictably, the Blues won the series in five games, San Jose's only win came in double overtime.
Yes, the Sharks had awful luck. But they faced the Blues all the same, and winning a Cup requires fixing your flaws.
This game will come relatively early in the season, but a road win in St. Louis would demonstrate the improvements in this year's Sharks team.
March 5: Sharks at Canucks
Since 2008, there have only been two teams atop the Western Conference standings at season's end: San Jose and Vancouver.
Of course, the Pacific Northwest's regular season dominance has only resulted in one Conference Championship and zero Stanley Cups, but there is never a game on the Western Conference slate that features as much all-world talent or as many great matchups as Sharks vs. Canucks does.
With several stars on both sides of this rivalry aging or nearing the end of their tenures in their given cities, this March 5 showdown should not be missed.
April 21: Blue Jackets at Sharks
However, the team did not have the killer instinct—the ability to put their foot down and beat a lesser opponent—of year's past. This was their only loss to Columbus, but season-series losses to Anaheim, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton and Carolina kept the team under 100 points, out of a top-three seed and ultimately led to their early playoff exit.
During a shortened 48-game season, it's almost inconceivable to believe that anything will be decided before the final game or two. Given that, the Sharks will absolutely need to win this second-to-last home game and fourth-to-last game.
April 27: Sharks at Kings
A rematch of last season's finale, which turned out to be the most important game of the year for both teams.
The Sharks won, moved up to the No. 7 seed and got on a plane to St. Louis. We all know by now how that ended.
The Kings lost, dropped down to the No. 8 seed and got on a plane to Vancouver. Even more people know how that ended.
That isn't to say the Sharks should lose this game. And considering that things should be even tighter than last year during this 48-game season, the season finale may not only be a battle for one spot in the standings—A win or loss could be the difference between home ice in round one and home couch in round one.