San Jose Sharks: Back to Back Wins Complete Road Trip on a High Note
When the San Jose Sharks left for their most recent road trip they found themselves in the middle of the Pacific division standings, off to a mediocre 3-2-1 start.
Six games later, San Jose returns home with a mark of 7-4-1, temporarily giving themselves sole possession of first-place in the division.
Posting victories on back-to-back days, first in Atlanta on Saturday and second in Philadelphia on Sunday, the Sharks turned what was becoming another inconsistent stretch of games into an impressive road trip.
Even with their top right-wing Devin Setoguchi out of the lineup for the majority of the last two contests, the Sharks were able outscore their opponents by a 2:1 ratio, combining for eight goals while allowing just four.
Without Setoguchi and the recently called up Ryan Vesce in the lineup against the Flyers, Jamie McGinn was recalled and former first round pick (9th overall) Logan Couture made his Sharks debut.
Although both players played admirably in limited ice time, it was Manny Malhotra who did his best Setoguchi impression by pacing the offense with his first two goals in a Sharks uniform.
Ironically, it was Malhotra who took Setoguchi's spot on the second-line alongside Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe.
The former Columbus Blue-Jacket has been primarily known as a quality third-line center whose main attributes include his work in the face-off circle. However, in his last season with Columbus, Maholtra posted career marks in assists with 24, and points with 35.
Malhotra's 35 points were more than what former Sharks Mike Grier and Marcel Goc's combined for as Sharks last season.
So far this season, San Jose's new "bottom-six" forwards are getting the job done. Eleven of San Jose's 42 goals this season have come from forwards not originally penciled in as top-six forwards. The Sharks are currently on pace for 75 goals to be tallied from their bottom tier forwards. Compare that to last season where the Sharks managed just 46 goals from the same group of players.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson wasn't happy with the club's scoring depth last season and twelve games into this year, it appears that the San Jose mastermind has fixed that problem.
However, the focus on making offensive changes this offseason has led the Sharks to start the season with a mix and match group of defensemen who have struggled out of the gate.
Rookie defenseman Jason Demers and veteran Kent Huskins both played in their first games in teal to start this season and the growing pains were evident. But the last couple games have seen the two newcomers limit their mistakes and the positive results are coming through.
The Sharks are now winners in four of their last five, and a chemistry throughout the entire club is becoming evident on the ice. Even backup netminder Thomas Greiss made his first start of the season and showed no rust at all by stopping 37 of 38 Flyers shots for his first career NHL victory.
Now not only has team chemistry been important to the Sharks' on ice success but the ability to win games in a multitude of different ways shows growth for a team that had managed to score the first goal in just one of their first six games prior to their Eastern Conference road trip.
Early on during the trip, San Jose continued to demonstrate an innate ability to climb out of first-period deficits. The Sharks came from behind against both the Islanders and Rangers, eventually winning both games handily.
But in the most recent two games, the Sharks were able to pounce on their opposition early, scoring first both times.
Although, each game of the back-to-backs displayed the Sharks ability to close out games in different ways. Granted one might claim that barely holding onto a one-goal lead isn't "closing out" a hockey game but the Sharks showed quality defensive positioning late in the Atlanta contest despite not being able to get the puck out of their own zone.
Nursing the slimmest of leads, the Sharks were on their heels but managed to find a way to keep the high-powered Thrashers from tying the game in the final moments.
However, when a team has a comfortable lead, letting the opponent hang around in the majority of those games is not the preferred form of closing out a game.
Case in point, the Sharks learned that Saturday night's three goal lead turned nail-biter is not the most comfortable feeling and on Sunday they kept attacking all game long.
By keeping their feet moving and not sitting back on the lead, Sharks right-wing Jed Ortmeyer was able to ice the game in the final four minutes, extending the two goal cushion into a three goal lead.
If the Sharks can keep this current momentum going on the upcoming home-stand, San Jose may just start to take off.
Considering they convincingly beat one of the Eastern Conference's top teams without three of their top-seven forwards and with their backup net-minder in goal, the Sharks seem to be headed on an almost unstoppable streak similar to the fashion that led them to a 23-3-2 start last season.
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