The first San Jose Sharks road trip of the 2016-17 NHL season reaches its midpoint with back-to-back games in New York…
October always seems to feature a San Jose Sharks road trip to the Eastern Conference. The first of the 2016-17 NHL season started with a victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Next up is a back-to-back set in New York.
It is hard to call any games this early in the season huge. The Blue Jackets were just the second opponent for the Sharks so far this 2016-17 NHL season.
Nevertheless, the Big Apple appearances are critical to this road trip. San Jose’s win in Columbus is meaningless without a win over the New York Rangers Monday, Oct. 17 (4:00 p.m. PDT). A loss makes Saturday’s result an unimpressive one-goal win over a cellar-dwelling team.
Why Tuesday will be tougher
The Rangers are better than the Blue Jackets, but not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. In fact, reaching the postseason is no given for them. That makes this a very winnable game for the Sharks. Anything less than an overtime loss is a disappointment.
Obviously, San Jose will lose games in regulation over the course of the 2016-17 NHL season—if not on this road trip. However, getting a win over the New York Islanders Tuesday is going to be tougher than beating the Rangers Monday..
For one, it is never easy to play the second day in a row. True, the Sharks were 7-4-2 in those games during the 2015-16 NHL season. Nevertheless, playing on at least a day’s rest is always preferable.
In most cases, it matters more which game features the starting goalie. San Jose is almost certain to give Martin Jones at least one of the days off. That means Aaron Dell gets his first NHL action.
The above-linked preview quotes head coach Peter DeBoer saying he expects that to be the second game. That puts more importance on winning Monday. Dell not only has never played a regular-season NHL minute, he was not even the AHL starter at this time last year.
Meanwhile, the Rangers will be starting backup Antti Raanta. They will also be without top blue-liner Dan Girardi and rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich.
More to the point, they are a team on the fall. The Islanders are a rising team centered around the best player in New York and one of five true Eastern Conference contenders.
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Defining success in New York and rest of trip
That being said, it does not matter when the points come. The Sharks can hold their heads high if they capture two of the four available points in New York. Even two overtime losses would leave the Eastern Trip over .500.
The next game of the trip is at the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday. They were better than San Jose in the Stanley Cup final and could be again this 2016-17 NHL season. The Detroit Red Wings will also be no picnic Saturday, especially in the last game of the trip.
That is why getting fewer than two points in New York will make it tough for the Sharks to have a good trip. It would require them to get two points in those last two tough games to have a successful trip.
By the same token, two wins would guarantee the trip finishes over .500. That is the best any team can truly expect when there is a good chance four of five games are against teams that will reach the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
What to look for
San Jose has played well defensively in both games and has yet to yield 30 shots. Jones has been stellar, allowing just three goals. Logan Couture has a goal and two assists and clicking early with newcomer Mikkel Boedker and returning winger Joonas Donskoi.
At the same time, the Sharks have only scored four goals against a goalie. The first line has only been involved in Couture’s man-advantage score and there is still a lack of blue-line scoring outside of Brent Burns.
Offensive struggles are not going to stop just because Raanta is in net. He is one of many backups to hold San Jose to two or fewer goals during the 2015-16 NHL season. The others were Kevin Kinkaid, Joni Ortio, Jacob Markstrom, Chad Johnson (twice), Al Montoya, Connor Hellebuyck, Darcy Kuemper, Karri Ramo, Steve Mason and former (and possible future?) Shark Thomas Greiss.
Still, the Sharks should score more against Raanta than the Rangers do against Jones. By contrast, it will be hard for Dell to match whoever the Islanders put in net. Two points is palatable and likely, but three or four would be no surprise at all.