The Sharks have just 18 games left in a season where the Stanley Cup playoffs still are mathematically possible -- but not realistic.
It’s been an uncharacteristic journey by franchise standards, one that now demands a pressing question: What can the Sharks accomplish during the rest of the season?
Healthy finish for Couture
In his second game back from injury, Logan Couture netted the game-winning goal Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. He did this despite not having officially practiced with the Sharks since Jan. 7th when he broke a bone in his foot. The captain's quick return should not diminish the fact that his season had to be completely paused and re-started from scratch.
With Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson shelved for the rest of the season, it remains important for Couture to finish the current schedule healthy and get his timing back without any limitations entering the summer and next season.
Get Jones' groove back
We could be witnessing the start of a strong finish for Martin Jones, who only has allowed seven goals in his last four starts. Two of those still resulted in losses, but that shouldn't discount his encouraging play.
This is not to suggest his struggles this season will be entirely erased, but sustained success through March would be a positive for Jones and the Sharks.
Jones and Aaron Dell are expected to continue alternating starts for the rest of the way, which would give Jones ample opportunity to continue distancing himself from the glooms of October and December. Before the current stretch, Jones only started three of the Sharks’ first 16 games in 2020.
Can young players emerge?
A theme entering this season was the expectation that the next wave of young players would make their mark at the NHL level.
Outside of Mario Ferraro -- and Dylan Gambrell to a degree -- it didn’t really pan out that way. The Sharks' desire to construct a turnaround by January only exacerbated the situation.
But now that the trade deadline has passed, even more nightly spots in the lineup have opened up. You can expect to see players like Alexander True, Jacob Middleton, and Noah Gregor get the full benefit of regular opportunity from here on out.
At the worst, it’s a great experience that they’re ready for. But the best-case scenario would be to have some built-in optimism and confidence surrounding one or some of the young commodities entering next season.
Avoid struggle stretches
I'm stating the obvious, but sustained losing streaks near the end of any season don’t usually bring any positive vibes or moral victories. This hockey season has been a complete struggle in San Jose, but avoiding a salty ending only can benefit the group that will carry over into next season. Losses are unavoidable, but staying away from long skids will be critical.
While there aren’t going to be extra hockey games in San Jose this spring, it almost is guaranteed there will be a few occasions in the final weeks where the Sharks can help derail an opponent’s postseason plans.
Nothing truly can replicate Stanley Cup playoff games, but putting this group through some simulated high-stakes situations is the next best thing.