The Sharks got the wrong first-round opponent. Such is the finding of my unofficial twitterstraw poll, conducted during the Sharks regular-season finale. Roughly 75 percent of respondents and yes,there were more than four believed San Josewas better off against Vancouver than St. Louis. Which is interesting, given that the Canuckssummarily bounced San Josefrom the playoffs last season. Thenagain, maybe thats the rationale it certainly was Jamie Bakers on SharksPregame Live. A little extra motivationnever hurts come playoff time.No matter, much to Bakes and my tweeps chagrin, itsSharks-Blues in round one. On thesurface, Armageddon-in-waiting Team Teal.St. Louiswon all four regular-season meetings, allowing a TOTAL of three goals in theprocess. Yikes.There is a school of thought that suggests past performanceis not necessarily an indicator of future results. Im sure I saw that in the fine print of afinancial management brochure. Or in thecast bios for Celebrity Apprentice.Regardless, that school of thought has pretty much failed when appliedto the Sharks. Two seasons ago, San Jose got blitzed by Chicago during the regular season, then sweptby the Blackhawks in the playoffs. Lastyear, Vancouverowned the Sharks during the regular-season, and you know what happened afterthat. So why should we expect thisgo-round to be any different?Many simply dont.They say Blues in five games.They say St. Louisis too fast, too deep, too stingy, too well-coached, too darn frustrating forthe Sharks to deal with. And they saythat because, well, thats exactly what they saw during the four meetings thisseason.I wish I could argue with that logic, but I cant. I saw the Chicago result coming. I saw the Vancouver result coming. And I have long feared that a St. Louis pairing wouldbe pretty much a disaster. Arguably theworst possible matchup in the entire Western Conference. But then theres this, the one glimmer of hope I can offerto fans (and to my admittedly skeptical self): the Sharks are a different team nowthan the one which last faced St. Louis on March 3rd. Thatteam was in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Thatteam, in fact, lost an incredible 11 out of 13, going 5-34 (14.7) onthe power play during that stretch. That team didnt scoreas many as four goals for 20 straight games.That team managed justone regulation road win in a full months time. Contrast that with the new and improved (really, was thereany other way to go?) version. Fourstraight wins and seven of nine to end the season including gutty,character-revealing road triumphs at Dallas and Los Angeles. Six for the last 20 (30) on the powerplay. Wins over Boston,Detroit, Nashville,Phoenix, and L.A. (twice) in the final three weeks. That said, the Sharks will have to play that well and thensome to win this series. Joe Pavelskiwill have to remain scorching hot. LoganCouture will have to get scorchinghot. Patrick Marleau will have to hitsomebody. And yes, score. (Did I mention San Jose is 18-3-3 this season when Marleaulights the lamp?) TheWinick-Wingels-Desjardins line will have to keep buzzing around in freneticfashion. Marc-Edouard Vlasic will haveto play like the all-star he resembled in the seasons first half. Brent Burns will have to become the force healmost is. Antti Niemi will have to keeppace with the Blues outstanding goalie duo.Put simply, every man will have to bring the energy, the desperation,and (perhaps most importantly against this particular opponent) theattention-to-detail that brought the Sharks back from late-season life supportand got them to within one victory of a division title.Embrace the underdog role, boys. Unfamiliar territory to be sure, but maybe itwill suit you. Jamie Baker thinksso. And I am sure at least 25 of mytweeps agree.
The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.
The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.
The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start.
There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.
Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.
In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday.
Now comes the hard part.
It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups.
Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.
Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.
We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season.
And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.
SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.
Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.
Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.
On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.
"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."
Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.
Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."
Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.
"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."
Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.
The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.
Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.
"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."
Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.
"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."
Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.
The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.
NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.
Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.
Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.