The first Eastern Conference road trip of the 2016-17 NHL season has already summoned summoned the ghost of San Jose Sharks past…
The San Jose Sharks have one game remaining on their first Eastern Conference road trip of the 2016-17 NHL season. A win in the finale will be necessary to make the swing a success after blowing a lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday, Oct. 20.
The Sharks entered the third period with a 2-0 lead. The Penguins were without Conn Smythe winner and captain Sidney Crosby as well as the trophy’s rightful winner Kris Letang. Two more blue-line injuries happened during the game, leaving the Stanley Cup champions with only two pairs for the third.
Losing that kind of game is bad enough. Not earning at least a point is worse.
It is also not the first poor performance on the five-game road trip. Moreover, there is one more game to play Saturday. San Jose’s uneven play so far through the Eastern Conference has summoned the ghost of seasons past.
Stanley Cup disappointment
The most obvious ghost evoked by the loss in Pittsburgh was the memory of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals. The third period looked very much like that series.
The Sharks were overmatched in the finals by a more skilled, faster team. Even after the offseason moves by general manager Doug Wilson, the shorthanded Penguins were better when they had to be.
That is disconcerting even if it is just the fifth game of the 2016-17 NHL season. Despite a modest 10-7 edge in shots on goal over the final frame, Pittsburgh’s speed overwhelmed San Jose.
Of course, the Sharks had held a 27-10 shooting advantage through two periods. Perhaps seeing the banner raised by their conquerors only provided a 40-minute burst.
Poor lead protection
That points to perhaps the most significant ghost evoked by Thursday’s blown lead. San Jose’s inability to close out games seemed to have been a demon exorcised in the 2016 Stanley Cup run.
Instead, it reared its head in the worst way against the one team and in the one circumstance it should not have. Three flat third periods in four games is not the way a champion plays. Whether success or some other factor led to losing an edge or there is some other problem entirely, it is imperative the resulting losses teach that lesson early in the season.
The Sharks allowed the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets back into last Saturday’s game after coming out of the second intermission with a 2-0 lead. The New York Rangers also scored five third-period goals Monday, albeit two into an empty net.
In fact, San Jose has been outscored 9-6 in the final frame through five games and still 7-5 excluding empty-net goals. Those are not patterns that will work to win the Stanley Cup.
The good ghost
Not all is gloomy, however. One ghost of the past the Sharks will want to revisit them is the one haunting the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit was not a stop San Jose could have made in an Eastern Conference road trip before the last lockout. Realignment made it possible, but cost a truly beneficial matchup.
The Red Wings have to happiest about the move because of the reduction in time zones and miles travelled. However, it is a pretty nice side benefit for them to see less of the Sharks—a team that has dominated the head-to-head rivalry since losing in the second round of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Thus, the best thing would be for San Jose to wait one more game to let go of their past. The sooner afterward this team does that, the brighter its future will be.