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.
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.