Just when you thought it was safe to start wearing teal again...
Following a resounding and convincing victory over the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Monday night, the San Jose Sharks went back on the road for a brief two game back-to-back road trip. The Sharks handled the Kings 6-3 at home, playing their best game of the year thus far and growing stronger as the game wore on.
That momentum would not carry into the road trip.
The Sharks did a lot of good things on the road trip, overcoming some odd calls and bad bounces against the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars to grasp two-goal leads in the third period of each game. But the ability to finish games would elude Team Teal in both games.
The Sharks surrendered two unanswered goals in each third period, allowing their opposition to push both contests to OT, where the home team found a way to win two nights in a row. This was particularly devastating in the Dallas game, a game in which the Sharks had trailed 2-0 early, only to storm back to a 4-2 lead before allowing the tying goals in the last three minutes of play.
The inability to put a team away late was not the only disparaging sign, either. The Sharks were thoroughly outplayed on special teams as well. After scoring twice in the first ten seconds of power plays against the top penalty-killing Kings, the Sharks went a collective 0-10 on the power play in Denver and Dallas while surrendering two goals on the penalty kill. Their power play woes were most notable against the Avs, where the Sharks went scoreless on seven-plus minutes of power play time in first period, when they could possibly have put the game out of reach early.
Goaltending suffered a setback as well. With Antero Niittymaki playing solid in goal all season, and Antti Niemi coming off two strong outings, the pair combined to allow nine goals on just 63 shots on the brief road trip. Part of that was due to defensive lapses with Douglas Murray and Niclas Wallin missing time, but still Niitty has allowed seven goals in his last two starts, and Niemi's performance pushed his goals against average and save percentage back to 3.91 and .878 respectively. Both rank him worse than 40th in the league.
Despite all that, however, the Sharks certainly took things to build on away from each game. While their overall stats left to be desired, both goaltenders made several saves of the spectacular variety, shifting momentum back to their side at critical junctures in the game. The Sharks demonstrated resilience against Dallas, recovering from a 2-0 hole to score four consecutive goals before allowing Dallas to tie late.
Moreover, the Sharks were able to salvage two points and draw within two of the now-slumping division leading Kings. Had the Sharks found a way to win in OT, they could be tied for the Pacific Division lead right now. If the Sharks can build on the positives they have shown over the last three games, a speedy return to their familiar division leading perch could be well within reach. That could buy them time to craft the best possible moves to improve the team by the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, rookie forward Logan Couture continues to craft an impressive resumé for Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) consideration. With two goals on the trip, Couture raised his league-leading rookie total to eight goals. He also ranks second with 12 points.
Couture has been a stalwart for the Sharks, spending significant time on the top line so far this season. If Couture keeps up this pace, he should stand a very good chance of becoming the first Shark since Evgeni Nabokov to bring the Calder Trophy home to San Jose (Nabokov was the only other Shark to win, though Dany Heatley won as a Thrasher). Perhaps it could accompany another key piece of hardware.
Keep the Faith!
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