The San Jose Sharks lost a shootout to host Detroit Red Wings to snap their six-game winning streak last week. They bounced back with a dominating 5-0 win over the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins to finish the week 2-0-1.
The Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games (outscoring their foes 40-19) and 10-1-2 in their last 13. Seven of the last ten games the Sharks have played have been on the road, and they have been getting it done without Joe Pavelski (who returned against Pittsburgh), Rob Blake, Devin Setoguchi, Douglas Murray, and Torrey Mitchell at times during the stretch.
Losing to Detroit in a shootout was actually impressive considering they had played to a shootout against a physical Columbus Blue Jackets the night before. Could we just once get to go into Joe Louis Arena without having travelled from Columbus the night before?
The Sharks also have been winning in different ways. Unlike last season, they have won being out-shot, out-hit, or when they spend more time in the penalty box. At times, they are even blocking more shots than their opponents this season.
In other words, this team is fighting through. In Coach Todd McLellan's own words, they are learning to be "less pretty and more gritty." This is what a team needs to be able to do come playoff time, when every inch of ice is fought over in ways it is not in the regular season, and when the injury list is as long as the list of healthy players.
They are getting goals from the third and fourth lines that I had seen as an Achilles' Heel at the outset of the season. In 18 games so far, 18 different Sharks have scored goals; a dozen have scored more than one and two have scored more than 10. Two dozen players have points so far, and five different Sharks are averaging a point a game.
The one thing the Sharks need to work on is puck control. They have more giveaways and fewer takeaways than their opponents in nearly every game.
This does not translate well into the post-season, although the Sharks will tend to have this problem because they are a puck possession team—they lead the league in faceoffs by almost four percent over the next best team. Turnover problems also should clear up when the roster is not in constant flux due to injuries.
San Jose hosts Nashville tonight at 7:30pm PST before playing six of their next nine on the road. That will bring them to 18 road games vs. just 10 home games at the conclusion of November.
This is another key difference from last season, when the Sharks appeared to get fat off home ice early in the season and tire late when they had to play so many on the road. This time, we should have a better idea of the real talent level of the Sharks by the trade deadline than we did last season, and more room to make needed moves.