SAN JOSE -- The Sharks routinely have one of the worst travel schedules in the NHL. There isn’t a single road game that doesn’t require a flight of at least an hour.
Still, after this week’s trek through Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey, the Sharks will have knocked out all of their cross-country expeditions by mid-February. For a team that would prefer to be well rested ahead of the playoffs in April, that’s a huge benefit.
“Yeah, it is. It’s been a tough road,” Pete DeBoer said. “It will be nice to finish March and April at least in the west, within a time zone or two of California, not having to do that travel. Come playoff time – and obviously we want to make sure we secure a spot first – but there’s going to be some heavy mileage there, I’m assuming.”
Joel Ward said: “Getting tired of these five-hour plane rides, so if we can knock them out, it will be good.”
On the other hand, the Sharks have had wonderful success against the Eastern Conference. Their 16-6-0 mark against eastern teams is the best mark in the Western Conference, after they posted a 20-11-1 record against them last season.
No Western team has more than the Sharks’ 36 wins against the Eastern Conference since the start of the 2015-16 season, while their impressive .685 points percentage against the opposing conference is the best of any NHL team over that span.
DeBoer chalked that up to coincidence more than anything else, comparing it to the Sharks’ bad home record but NHL-best road record last season.
“I think every team is different. I don’t think there is an explanation,” he said. “It’s like our home and road record, you guys (the media) last year – we couldn’t win at home and there were all those questions, and now we do nothing but win at home. I don’t know if there’s an explanation for it. We’re jut going about business and trying to win games.”
Still, DeBoer and his staff probably deserve some credit here. They’re the ones in charge of getting the team prepared to play against opposing players that aren’t quite as familiar to their club.
The pregame meetings take on a little more importance when you’re facing an unacquainted foe.
“The homework is there, for sure,” Ward said. “[The coaches] definitely do a really good job of laying it out there for us, it’s just a matter of executing. When you don’t see teams too often I think the emphasis on some meetings could be a little bit longer and more important, just to key on a few guys.”
Brenden Dillon said: “There’s a little bit of personnel [discussion], guys you don’t know as much about. You’re definitely watching a little bit more video, asking a few more questions.”
After next Sunday’s game against the Devils, the Sharks will have just six games remaining against Eastern Conference teams. All of them will be in the friendly confines of the SAP Center, though.
They’ll take an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games into their final significant roadie, enjoy the bye week later this month, and go into March with a division title on their minds.
“Where we’re at with the schedule here, this is the final push,” Dillon said.