The San Jose Sharks welcome the New Jersey Devils at the SAP Center on Monday night, the fourth game of their current seven-game homestand. The game features the return of former Sharks Scott Gomez and Martin Havlat, but players from both sides have their minds focused on issues besides their homecomings. After splitting the meetings of the first two games of this homestand with games against Toronto and Calgary, the Sharks now find themselves with the daunting task of how to play the final eight weeks of the season and figuring out where they will ultimately end up when the dust settles.
Though San Jose has traditionally been a dominant home-ice team, simply having home ice advantage doesn’t work the way it used to. The best example would be the recent struggles of conference rival Los Angeles on their own home ice, where they dropped four of the first five games on a recent homestand.
With everything that’s been said about the Sharks since they self-destructed in the post season last year and general manager Doug Wilson announced the team was going into a rebuild mode, there are really just two simple pieces of the puzzle that the Sharks need to focus on to finish with healthy positioning in the standings.
- Own Home Ice
The Sharks recent game against the Toronto Maple Leafs marked a string of 19 out of the next 24 games that will be played at SAP Center. Of course, we’ve seen two different teams at home this year. During the time spanning Nov. 29-Dec. 20 where the team fired off eight consecutive wins the power play was 36%, and the penalty kill went 84%. They’ve had “easy” opponents thus far on the homestand, where the power play has only operated at 8%, and the penalty kill has dropped but remained at a respectable 71%. After the New Jersey Devils leave town, the Sharks will have Los Angeles, Anaheim and Chicago, so owning home ice and operating on special teams will be very important to their success.
Including tonight’s game, the Sharks will play just 18 more games before the NHL’s March 2 trade deadline. This is a critical time for players to step up, or step aside. There have been tons of names thrown about in regards to who the Sharks will trade. One trade I hope the Sharks won’t consider is Tyler Kennedy. If Kennedy can stay healthy, at this point of the season as compared to last, his value is far greater and the odds of him being dealt at the deadline are just as great. Forward James Sheppard has traditionally played better hockey in the second half of the season, but this is a guy who has tallied just one goal in his last 29 contests, and two points in his last 11 outings. A package featuring Sheppard, Tomas Hertl, and defensemen Matt Irwin or Matt Tennyson could also be one for the Sharks to consider.
Compiling points at this point of the season is any clubs’ primary objective, and Doug Wilson has positioned his team that, come March 2, the Sharks will surely be looking to buy if they want to bring the club closer to its first Stanley Cup Championship.