This man lifting the cup should be a crime. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Five On Five: Five Important Home Games vs. Five Crucial Away Games For The 2012-13 Season

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Logan can taste it. Can you? Jul 13, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) watches batting practice before the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

With the San Jose Sharks looking to set a different tone in the upcoming 2012-13 season, their calendar may play a pivotal role in their efforts. After a season plagued with inconsistencies on both the calendar and the ice, the Sharks are primed to make a statement early on in the season.

The Sharks start their season this year on a grind, facing the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Nashville Predators all within the first nine games. After a somewhat boring start to the season against teams in the Pacific division the past few years, it should be a good shakeup for the team to try and get things off to a strong start against some of their more heated rivals.

This Week’s Five On Five:

Five Important Home Games

vs.

Five Crucial Away Games

Every season has its “must-wins” and high-stakes matchups. But when it comes to the San Jose Sharks, it seems like every game feels like a must-win. Will the Sharks continue to scratch and claw, or will they finally get their teeth back this year? First up…

Five Important Home Games

Well, to be fair, every home game is important. But these games are, like, super important.

He wants it. He wants it bad. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

 

#5. Sharks vs. Blue Jackets, 11/17/12

Because of Rick Nash. It’s all but a fact Nash won’t be in a Columbus jersey at the beginning of 2012-13, leaving the Blue Jackets without their leading scorer, and more importantly, their franchise captain. Teams will be facing a whole new Blue Jackets team next season- whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen. Los Angeles Kings backup netminder Jonathan Bernier is in talks with Columbus.  Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski head up the blue line again for the Jackets. And with what will likely be a completely reworked top six should Nash get dealt, the Jackets will have a new formula for teams to crack.

#4. Sharks vs. Canucks, 12/13/12

After ten years, Luongo deserves a better team to choke with. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE

Because screw Vancouver.

Similar to the Rick Nash and the Jackets, the Vancouver Canucks face a similar situation with franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo. After a decade mired in disappointment, shortcomings, and this, Luongo requested a trade from the Canucks at the end of the season. Cory Schneider has proven himself a reliable replacement should Luongo get dealt, but just as Blue Jackets’s GM Scott Howson is taking his time with Nash, don’t expect Canucks GM Mike Gillis to rush into things with his star player. Even if Luongo has a record of breaking at key moments, he could still be of some interest to teams in need of a netminder, such as the aforementioned Blue Jackets, or even the Chicago Blackhawks. Next season may be the first time in a long time that we’ve see a Luongo-less Canucks team

For a team and a fanbase that harped on the Sharks for being chokers for so long, the Canucks are starting to make quite a case for themselves. Two Presidents’ Trophies, one Game 7 blowout, an inexcusable first sweep later and a handful of doubt and excuses, the Canucks will be certainly reeling for the Cup this season, perhaps even more desperate than the Sharks. Look for the Sharks to play the spoiler role this year and try to get under their pacific northwest rival’s heads. Canucks/Sharks have proven to be some of the best games of the year, and 2012-13 should be no different.

#3. Sharks vs. Jets, 2/26/13

Not a particularly electrifying matchup, but still an important one to note. This will be the Sharks’ first time hosting the newly reformed Winnipeg Jets, and their second meeting overall. While the Sharks won the last matchup to the tune of 2-0, next year’s Jets certainly will pack a more substantial punch. With  resigned forward Kyle Wellwood coming off of a breakout year and newly signed Olli Jokinen looking to make an impact in Winnipeg, look for the Jets to have a bit more offensive punch this time around.

#2. Sharks vs. Blues, 11/1/12

Luckily, the Sharks won’t have to wait too long to extract their revenge against the club that took them out in the playoffs last season. The Sharks take on a Blues team with newly-resigned Jamie Langenbrunner and TJ Oshie, with netminder Brian Elliott, alongside a healthy Jaroslav Halak.The Sharks will hopefully have some new answers for the team that took them out in five games last Spring.

#1. Sharks vs. Wild, 1/12/13

In what will feel like an exhibition match to most fans, the Sharks will ring in the new year facing a Wild team stacked with former Sharks. Heatley, Setoguchi, and Mitchell will skate alongside newly minted Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in what will surely be a much different matchup than it was last season. The Wild may have finally found the pieces they needed after a disappointing season, and are looking to be serious Cup contenders this season.

***

Home games are all fun and games, but the road is where teams are made and dismantled. When you have a team that can win away from home ice on a regular basis, you have a team that’s level-headed, confident, and unswayed by the distractions of an away crowd. Next up…

 

Five Crucial Away Games

Like in a “Dark Knight’s out, I need to be first in line” kind of way. Not that I was first in line or anything.

#5. Sharks @ Ducks, 10/12/12

You'd better be ready, pal. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

This game holds a lot of importance for the Sharks, aside from being the season opener. It’s their first time being in Southern California since the Kings won the Cup, facing a team that, despite their awful record last season, somehow managed to go 5-1-0 against the Sharks. Former Sharks Brad Staubitz and Daniel Winnik will join the Ducks this season, adding even more fuel to the ongoing fire of this rivalry. It can’t be said enough: The Sharks need to start their season strong, and need to make an early statement to a team that spanked them last season.

#4. Sharks @ Avalanche, 10/24/12

Continuing with the beginning of the season, the Sharks head to Colorado early on in the year. They’ll be facing a slightly revamped Avalanche team, featuring the likes of former Shark Jamie McGinn and newly acquired P.A. Parenteau. It’ll also be T.J. Galiardi‘s second time against his former club. The Avalanche have added some depth into their scoring, and while it may have left them a little top heavy to their blue line, the Sharks will still have plenty on their hands to contain the young firepower of this team.

#3. Sharks @ Predators, 4/9/13

This is an important game at an important point of the season. This matchup comes at the end of a particularly nasty homestand (featuring the Ducks, Devils, Coyotes, Canucks, and more) and starts a three-game road trip to end the season (finishing in Phoenix). The Sharks have struggled in recent years to finish out the regular season on a high note. Watch for this game to either spark a flame or smother one.

#2. Sharks @ Kings, 11/23/12

It’s a shame the Sharks have to wait almost two months to get a crack at the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, but the wait will almost certainly be worth it. After beating the Kings twice in a back-to-back series to end the season, the Sharks finally get the chance to continue their winning ways against Los Angeles. However, expect the wind to be under LA’s sails in this matchup for obvious reasons. The Kings are going to use every ounce of their championship status to get into the Sharks heads.

#1. Sharks @ Stars, 3/9/13

The Sharks will have played the Dallas Stars three times prior to this matchup, but this particular game is a priority for the Sharks. It comes in the middle of a 9-game homestand for the Sharks after a 7 game roadie (a rarity for the team, which is usually accustomed to traveling upwards to ten games for the SAP open). The Sharks will play 18 different teams over 20 games in that period (including a back-to-back series with the Kings). This is going to challenge the Sharks’ consistency, and should be a good litmus test for the team going into the playoffs.

Dallas’ additions and subtractions in the offseason should also spice this surprisingly cool rivalry up a bit this year. Aaron Rome and former Shark Ray Whitney were both good additions, but then Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk decided to make a deal with the devil and convince the legendary Jarmoir Jagr to come to Dallas. At 54 points (19G/35A) last season, Jagr showed no sign of age in his return to the NHL, and could prove to be deadly on a second or third line with the Stars.

Of course, the Sharks also took away from Nieuwendyk this offseason, signing winger Adam Burish to the team to address the team’s lack of a bottom-pairing enforcer. With the amount of history and past talent on both of these teams, 2012-13 may be the year that sees the Stars/Sharks rivalry taken off the backburner and put back onto a hot surface.

***

Of course, all of this depends on the lockout not happening. But regardless, the schedule the Sharks have at the moment puts them in a very good place. It’ll keep them busy, focused, and engaged- there really aren’t any lulls or too many three day breaks for a team that suffered from an inconsistent schedule last season. Whether or not this going to be the year remains to be seen, but the schedule is definitely a step in the right direction.

-J

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