What struggling Sharks need to fix on important six-game homestand

What struggling Sharks need to fix on important six-game homestand

SAN JOSE - Calling any Sharks game "a big test" has become an understatement since every game the team plays now is a challenge to see if they can climb out of the hole they've dug themselves into in the first month of the season.

But after a difficult road trip that yielded some less-than-stellar results, Team Teal kicks off a month chock-full of home games with a six-contest stint at SAP Center.

This sets the stage for a team down on its luck to really, truly, turn things around. Whether they can turn the page will say a lot about where they are as a team. 

For starters, it's no secret that home ice has treated the Sharks very well in past seasons. In fact, they are 94-55-15 overall in the South Bay since Peter DeBoer took over as coach at the start of the 2015-16 season.

That being said, this campaign has already offered up new challenges and with just four games played at The Tank so far this season, it's hard to get a grasp on exactly how this six-game homer could play out. 

Here's what we do know. San Jose is 2-2-0 at home so far this season and has given up just as many goals as they have scored at 12 apiece. Their penalty kill has been immaculate and their power play has been successful 26.7 percent of the time. We also know that the Sharks are playing all Western Conference teams on this six-game stretch and they are currently sitting at 2-4-0 and are being outscored 22-13 against such teams.

So, what's a team have to do to get over the hump?

Staying out of the penalty box would be a good start. Yes, the Sharks still have the best kill in the league. (Although not by very much after the Bruins tallied two PPGs in last Tuesday's game in Boston.) But San Jose is currently ranked third in the league for going to the sin bin an average 4.21 times per game. It's no wonder the Sharks' five-on-five game is having so much trouble establishing a regular rhythm.

And as fans are probably well aware, scoring has been an issue through the first 13 games of the 2019-20 campaign as San Jose is being outscored in all three periods of play.

The Sharks' need to make a big turnaround doesn't just have to do with their overall record, but how their recent road trip ended. After a convincing win over the Montreal Canadiens, San Jose's game unraveled over a three-game span. Sure, they were able to keep pace with the Toronto Maple Leafs on the tail end of a back-to-back and only let off the gas in the final five or so minutes of play. But they followed that up with a flat-footed effort against the Ottawa Senators and then were overpowered by the Bruins. After looking like they made some improvements to their game earlier in the road trip, the Sharks showed there's still plenty of work to be done.

[RELATED: Fans voice biggest concerns about Sharks]

San Jose has a test right out of the gate with back-to-back games to open up their homestand against the Jets -- who aren't playing as well as expected -- and the Canucks -- who have won eight of their last 10 games and are on a two-win streak. Regardless of how either opponent is playing, the Sharks need to get off on the right foot this weekend and get some momentum going in the right direction. 

Whatever the result, it should be an interesting homestand for the Sharks. It could also say a lot about where they are.

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

View this post on Instagram

Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for a higher rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) than any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

Getty Images

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

Vodka, violence and victory.

“Red Penguins,” a documentary released by Universal for streaming On Demand on Tuesday, chronicles the brief foray by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins into ownership of a Russian professional hockey team. The film features plenty of vodka and violence, although victory proved to be elusive.

Penguins owners Tom Ruta and Steven Baldwin made the decision to invest in the struggling club HC CSKA Moscow, which previously had been controlled by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Steven Warshaw, then the Penguins' vice president for sales and marketing, was the man tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations on the ground in Moscow, and guides you through all of the unbelievable twists and turns that came with bringing American ideals of organizational structure and capitalism into a society that was amid a transition from decades of communism.

An in-arena strip club, live bears serving beer and a near nine-figure partnership with Disney are just part of what came to define the Penguins’ wild reign behind the Iron Curtain.

Director Gabe Polsky utilizes Warshaw and his enigmatic personality to tell the majority of the story, but also includes interviews from Russia with the team’s former mascot and broadcaster in Moscow, as well as former Red Army manager Valery Gushin, who developed a unique relationship with Warshaw that was both friendly and contentious.

The crew had to traverse some dangerous ground in collecting the interviews, and even had one interview interrupted by KGB officials.

“This overweight man was just sort of standing behind us for like, way more longer than comfortable,” Polsky said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area last week. “Within a couple minutes, the police show up and you hear it, and start saying ‘get the hell out of here,’ and basically they thought there was a bomb nearby.”

Equal parts hilarious and chilling, “Red Penguins” showcases the wildest aspects of running a professional sports franchise in Russia while detailing the danger and sadness that can be a consequence of doing business parallel to an organized crime syndicate.

Polsky, who is the son of Soviet immigrants to the United States, believes American hockey fans and sports fans in general can get a unique look at the complicated relationship between the two world superpowers, and how that dynamic both brought the Penguins immense popularity in Russia and led to their downfall.

“Almost no films out there, that are English-speaking, that take the audience into Russia,” Polsky said. “Seeing the people, understand the psychology, mentality, up against the American mentality, and you see it even more clearly.

“There’s a lot to kind of unpack and understand in this film.”

Whether you’re a Sharks fan, a general sports fan or even just someone who enjoys a compelling story involving international relations, “Red Penguins” will have you glued to your screen.