What we know -- and what we don't -- about Sharks at NHL halfway point


What we know -- and what we don't -- about Sharks at NHL halfway point

Coincidentally, the halfway point of the Sharks’ 2018-19 campaign fell right on New Year’s Eve during San Jose's 8-5 loss to the Calgary Flames. So while everyone has no doubt switched out their calendars and kicked 2018 to the curb already, this is a perfect time to take a look at what we’ve learned about San Jose so far this season – and the question that is still unanswered.

What we know: The Sharks have the ability to live up to that preseason hype

It may have taken the Sharks a couple of months to iron out the kinks. But a strong December showed the Sharks can buckle down, play a detail-oriented game on a regular basis and even string some wins together.

There were plenty of questions surrounding the Sharks when their season first got underway, and their level of play was inconsistent from night to night. Most onlookers focused in on how superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson was playing and adapting to being on a new team. But the addition of the defenseman wasn’t the only thing the Sharks had to work through early in the season.

There were early-season injuries that shook up the lineup. Then, there was the rigorous travel schedule in October and November. No player or coach would use any of factors as an excuse for not playing well. But, there’s no denying they had an impact on San Jose’s ability to capitalize on chances and play a strong 60-minute game on a regular basis.

But through their difficult stretches of games, the Sharks remained confident they were better than their record showed. After a closed-door meeting during their four-game losing streak at the end of November, San Jose began to turn thingsaround.

Once the Sharks defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 2, the team started getting back to that level they wanted to reach. With a strengthened defensive front, a few new faces in the lineup, and the confidence from a few more wins, San Jose started turning those chances and into goals and turned the losing streaks into strings of wins.

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What we have yet to learn: Exactly how they match up with the other big teams in the league

The Sharks believe they can match up with any team the NHL has to offer and win, no matter how good the opposition is. Some nights, that appears to be true. On other nights, however, San Jose is constantly playing catchup.

They twice beat the Nashville Predators, who boast one of the league's best scoring defenses, but the Sharks also lost twice to the speedy Toronto Maple Leafs. San Jose so far has split the season series with the Calgary Flames, winning 3-1 at SAP Center last month and losing a wild one on Monday.

Long story short: When it comes to facing off against the league’s toughest competition, the Sharks’ body of work is sort of a mixed bag.

Perhaps the best indicator we’ve seen so far this season of how the Sharks match up against the NHL’s toughest teams was their pre-holiday faceoff against the Winnipeg Jets. While San Jose ended up losing that game, the Sharks stayed toe-to-toe with Winnipeg all night. The loss snapped the Sharks' then-five-game winning streak but coach Peter DeBoer told the media he thought the effort was the best he’d seen from the team over that six-game span.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski added: “We expected to win this game. Especially with the way we’ve been playing, with the way our game is trending.”

Now, it remains to be seen if the Sharks can get on a similar winning streak and emerge victorious in those big games.

With the second half of the season about to get underway and their earlier issues seemingly behind them, now is the Sharks' opportunity to show they can consistently play at a level that will push them past the league’s toughest competition. Their Jan.5 contest against the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning would be an excellent place to start.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson supports Evander Kane's message in lengthy post

Sharks' Erik Karlsson supports Evander Kane's message in lengthy post

Sharks forward Evander Kane has been extremely outspoken about racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd's tragic death while in Minneapolis police custody last week. Both San Jose's owner Hasso Plattner and captain Logan Couture have publicly supported Kane's efforts and recognized the need for his message.

On Wednesday, another of Kane's teammates joined that group.

Erik Karlsson, arguably the Sharks' most well-known player on a global scale, wrote a lengthy Instagram post to not only support Kane, but also further expound on his message.

"I can't tell you how many times I've written and deleted this hoping it comes across the right way," Karlsson began. "I don't think I'll ever feel completely comfortable but the reality that exists for so many others is pretty much as far away from comfortable as you can get. Coming from and growing up in a small village in Sweden, I never knew anything other than you should treat everyone the same way you would want them to treat you. I never once thought about skin color, where you come from, how you dress or what you possess. No person is worth more or less than another. You always treat someone the way you want them to treat you, regardless of how you look or where you are from. To be where I am right now in 2020 and see the things I see and hear the things I hear. It blows my mind how blind I have been to the issues that have been here for a very long time and that still exist."

"I thought I grew up in a world where it didn't matter what skin color you had or where you're from and that we are all the same, but I now know I was not educated on something so crucial," he continued. "Unfortunately, we cannot change the past, but we for sure can and need to change how we move forward, and I think we do that by learning and listening. I respect and support Evander for what he stands for and how he's so vocal about this issue. 

"I haven't gone through any of these issues in my life so I can never say I know what it's like. But all I know is that I want my daughter and all other children to grow up in a world much, much better than ours right now. A world I thought I grew up in where we are all equal and treated as such. A world that didn't exist but I pray soon does."

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Fewer than five percent of the NHL is comprised of players of color, according to WDET. As such, it has been tremendous to see so many white players join in and proliferate such a desperately needed message for both the league and world at large.

The more people that do, the more likely Karlsson's vision is to be realized.

What Sharks can learn from last time they missed Stanley Cup playoffs

What Sharks can learn from last time they missed Stanley Cup playoffs

The Sharks we so bad in 2019-20 that they couldn’t even qualify for an expanded 24-team NHL playoff field designed to wrap a campaign paused by the coronavirus pandemic.

They’ll be watching playoff hockey from home for just the second time in 16 seasons, an outlier outcome for a team that has been as steadily successful as any in professional sports.

The Sharks fell flat during a disastrous season where they finished dead-freaking-last in the Pacific Division and never got off the canvas after a brutal start. A team full of veteran stars finds itself in an odd position heading into a prolonged offseason, trying to find a way to rebound quickly from a disappointing campaign.

Many top players were around the last time the Sharks missed the postseason in 2014-15, and while the situations are not identical, there are lessons to be gleaned from the experience and their previous response to disappointment.

They finished above .500 in that 2014-15 season, and didn’t miss the postseason by much. The Sharks went 3-10 in the month of February, which sank their playoff chances and prompted the team and head coach Todd McLellan to mutually part ways.

But the Sharks reached different depths in 2019-20. They were the Western Conference’s worst team despite a roster full of heavyweights, with injuries to key players and some internal discord preventing the Sharks from reaching their vast potential. The letdown also led to Peter DeBoer's in-season firing and a coaching search now underway.

But Sharks captain Logan Couture knows a lot can be learned from that last offseason.

“I think a lot of guys went home during that summer determined to be in better shape and add some bite to their game,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said last week during a video conference with local reporters. “[Sharks GM Doug Wilson] challenged a lot of us to step up our games and improve as players. We wanted to come into the next year and prove that we were still a good team here in San Jose. I believe that summer a lot of people wrote us off and said the window was closed, that the team was done and to stick a fork in them.”

The Sharks surely will see similar predictions this offseason, just as they did five years ago, and it could prove to a motivating factor this time around.

“I think that lit a fire in a lot of us, and I think we’ll have a similar response this year,” Couture said. “There are going people writing those same articles. There are going to be fans thinking the same things. The only way that can change is if we make it change and show everyone we’re still a good team.

“We still have the pieces, in my mind, to compete. That’s all we can do, just work as hard as we can this summer and be as prepared as we can heading into the next training camp. I don’t think our camp this year was up to par, so we need to have a better one and get off to a good start, because we didn’t have a good one this year.”

Defenseman Erik Karlsson hasn’t been in San Jose long, but experienced plenty of disappointing seasons with the Ottawa Senators. He missed the playoffs four times with that club and each time – he was traded after missing the 2017-18 postseason -- the team responded to each setback with a playoff berth the following season.

“Every time you have a letdown, when you don’t feel that you performed up to the standards that you would like, it gets to everybody on the team and within the organization,” Karlsson said. “You have to make sure you come into the next year as prepared as possible to avoid having a bad situation repeat itself. That type of response shows a lot of character, and we have a lot of high-character guys on this team. I feel like, ever since we found out our season was ending, everyone has committed to coming back stronger next year.”

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The Sharks came back super strong after missing the 2014-15 playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup Final the following season. It will take some discipline and consistency to find similar form after a down year, with possibly eight months between their last game and the start of next season, which should be delayed due to a prolonged hiatus due to the ongoing public health crisis.

“Even not playing now, you’re going to have to train for seven or eight months. That sucks,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “It’s not fun. It’s tough work to get your body and mind ready for a year and we have to figure out how to do that for double, triple the time. Guys train as hard as they can and thank the gods it’s only two and a half months away from the game. It’s going to be difficult.”