Coming out of the weekend, only three NHL teams were on streaks that spanned more than two games. The Colorado Avalanche had dropped three straight, while the Dallas Stars had won five in a row. And while a skeptic might point to the fact that they’ve built up this streak by knocking off the Blue Jackets, the Sabres and the offensively-challenged Flyers, wins are wins. San Jose has also ousted some quality opponents like the Red Wings, Penguins and Bruins along the way. On top of that, every single one of these victories has come on the road.
That last part might be the most impressive. The Sharks’ last home contest was on Nov. 10, and their next one isn’t until the 25th. That’s slightly more than two weeks between games in their own building, not to mention the fact that travel is obviously going to be more extensive for a team from northern California than it is for a team from, say, New York.
Given those circumstances, picking up maybe 6-8 of the possible 12 points on that extensive trip out East would have almost certainly been deemed a “success.” But 12 out of 12 is downright impressive. And it thrusts one of the sport’s most enigmatic teams into the spotlight again — for the moment, at least.
It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and there are a number of intelligent people in the hockey world who feel you can tell a lot about a club based on where they are when the holiday rolls around. A team that’s languishing at the bottom of the standings (sorry Columbus) has to start facing the harsh reality that this isn’t the beginning of the season anymore. We’re a quarter of the way in already, and a few clubs have steep hills to climb. Conversely, anyone that’s perched atop the standings has put themselves in a nice position to work from, moving forward.
It doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, but it does sort of signify that we’ve played enough games where records are starting to matter now. With that in mind, the Sharks need to at least be looked at as a potential playoff contender in the West. They missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2003, and just the second time since 1997. Naturally, there were questions over the summer. And the only real answers came in the form of an unproven goalie — in other words, more questions.
Martin Jones had looked great during his time with L.A., but it was an extremely limited simple size. In two seasons as Jonathan Quick’s backup, he had made a grand total of 29 career starts. He’d notched 16 wins and a mind-boggling seven shutouts with a goals against average hovering right around 2.00. So the upside was clearly there. He just had to prove he could handle the pressure and workload that comes with being an everyday starter.
So far, so good. Jones has been in net for 11 of San Jose’s 13 wins, starting 17 of the team’s 21 games up to this point. His 2.02 GAA and .925 save percentage — plus another three shutouts — are a reminder that he hasn’t just been the beneficiary of playing on a team that scores a lot. In fact, he’s been the main reason they’ve picked up many of these victories.
He wasn’t the only change the organization made over the summer, but he was arguably the biggest. And if he’s going to play like this all season, the Sharks just might get the best goaltending they’ve had in quite some time.
That’s a significant upgrade from last season, when San Jose was surrendering 2.76 goals per game. And it’s definitely the first stat to point to when arguing why this year could be better than last for this group. It’s not the only reason for optimism in the Bay Area, though.
Scoring is up ever-so-slightly (from 2.73 goals per game last year to 2.76 now), which doesn’t seem all that big on the surface. And maybe it isn’t — until you remember that Logan Couture hasn’t played in nearly a month and a half because of a fibula injury.
That’s a perennial 60-point producer that’s been missing, which means this offense hasn’t been playing anywhere near full strength yet. All signs point to Couture’s recovery being right on schedule, which means he shouldn’t be sidelined all that much longer.
While they don’t hand out any awards for where you are 21 games into an 82-game season, the Sharks have to at least be encouraged by their start. The fact that they should be getting a sizable boost up front soon should only help.