San Jose Sharks Road Trip Opens With Washington Victory

Brent Burns continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal Tuesday. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Brent Burns continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal Tuesday. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

The longest San Jose Sharks road trip of the season opens with a quality Election Night win in Washington…

Bay Area residents have reason to be happy about what transpired in our nation’s capital on Election Night. The longest San Jose Sharks road trip of the 2016-17 NHL season opened with a convincing win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

The Sharks entered the road trip on a three-game losing streak after an embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Meanwhile, the Capitals had won five straight.

San Jose’s scoring struggles continued, but goalie Martin Jones overcame them with a 24-save shutout. Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored the game-winning and first goal after the midpoint of the contest.

Related Story: San Jose Sharks Scoring Woes Costly Against Arizona Coyotes

The blue-line contribution continued 5:03 later. Brent Burns put a wrister past the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby. Both goals were scored through traffic.

The second period had been an issue for the Sharks so far this 2016-17 NHL season. They entered the game with a 5-16 goal comparison in the middle frame. By contrast, they hold an advantage in the first and third period plus scored the only overtime goal in 13 games.

San Jose tallied its fourth empty-net goal of the season in the final two minutes to cap the scoring. Joe Thornton has two, with the one against Washington the first he actually deposited in net. (He was awarded the other when tripped after getting behind defenders.)

Bigger Picture

Feb 4, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Marc-Edouard Vlasic had the goal that got the longest San Jose Sharks road trip of the season off with a win. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The event summary shows the Capitals actually spent more of the game on the attack. They held the edge in almost every stat: 28-23 faceoffs, 10-11 giveaways, 5-7 takeaways,19-15 hits, 24-23 shots and 63-44 attempts. However, the Sharks rode a big edge (21-10) in blocks and allowed just four shots to reach Jones in the first period.

The puck is not going into the net enough, but two goals against Holtby and a good Washington defense does not indicate a problem. Both came at full strength, where San Jose has struggled most.

One more satisfactory offensive performance does not alleviate those concerns. However, two major positives suggest it is a temporary problem.

The biggest cause for optimism is the potential shown by AHL prospects. Kevin Labanc made his NHL debut Tuesday, taking the active spot that had been held by Micheal HaleyTommy Wingels also returned from illness, putting Matt Nieto back in the press box.

Lebanc’s first boxscore is unimpressive. He had one shot on two attempts with a minor penalty over 13:23 ice time. However, that shot was the first of the game and he helped create space on the Burns goal.

Adding scorers to the lineup is an effective way of improving offensive output. Lebanc led the San Jose Barracuda in goals (four) and points (10) when called up.

However, there is a more basic reason the Sharks will find the back of the net more. They shoot when games are in the balance. They have the best 5-on-5 shot percentage when the score is close so far this 2016-17 NHL season.

San Jose now travels to the critical state of Florida to take on both parties there: Thursday in Miami and Saturday in Tampa. (Sorry, this election ingrained that vernacular.)