When the goals aren’t flowing, playing a more buttoned-up defensive game becomes that much more vital.
The Sharks are 3-0 on their ongoing six-game road trip primarily because they’ve kept some high-powered offenses at bay. They’ve stayed out of the penalty box, are working hard all over the ice, aren't giving up many dangerous scoring chances, and are getting steady goaltending from Martin Jones.
The result has been wins over the Capitals, Panthers and Lightning, the most recent of which – a 3-1 triumph over Tampa Bay on Saturday – may have been their most impressive of the season.
“We’re rising to the occasion at the right time, and finding another level,” coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the game.
The benefit of having a veteran team – and the Sharks are certainly that, with the oldest team in the league according to NHLNumbers.com – is that they won’t panic when they hit a rough patch. They were scuffling before the trip with three straight regulation losses, including a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the Penguins on Nov. 5 at SAP Center.
But despite that decisive shutout defeat, the Sharks didn’t turn their attention to their lack of goal scoring. They had to get back to playing more responsible defensively after some blatant, head-shaking breakdowns in those losses to the Coyotes, Flames and Penguins.
“As a team, we talked about the most important thing is playing a good defensive game,” Tommy Wingels said after the 4-2 win over the Panthers on Thursday.
The penalty kill plays a huge part in that, of course, and that’s been the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game since opening night. They’ve remarkably killed off 24 straight opponent power plays, not surrendering a single power play goal since that third period collapse in Pittsburgh way back on Oct. 20.
One huge key to that PK success is they haven’t been overly taxed. The Sharks have been shorthanded just 37 times, the fewest in the league, and are six-for-six on the road trip so far.
Faceoffs have improved, too, as San Jose has won more than 50 percent of its draws in six of its last seven games. They were last in the league in faceoffs prior to that run, but are now up to a respectable 48.9 percent.
The Sharks still have yet to score more than three goals in a win this season, not including empty netters (they scored four against the Rangers on Oct. 17, but lost 7-4). They’re still 21st in the NHL at 2.47 per game.
But with their lineup mostly unchanged from last season when they finished fourth in the league at 2.89 goals per game, the expectation is that part of their game will come around. At some point, it will have to.
In the meantime, the Sharks are reestablishing that defensive foundation that made them so successful last season. That bodes well for future.