Sharks captain Joe Pavelski couldn’t have summarized it better than he did after the Sharks' 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
“There’s always another level that this team can get to,” he told reporters in Edmonton.
Sure, the Sharks did some good things in Thursday's win. Heck, getting in the win column at all after the run they’ve been on is progress. But with just one more game left before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, the team still has things to work on before they consider themselves playoff-ready.
“I still think there’s some room for improvement,” Pavelski said. “Moving forward, as the atmospheres ramp up in away buildings and teams are pushing, we’ve got to stay on the attack and stay aggressive.”
The Sharks trailed 1-0 just 2:03 into the game, but rebounded to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. When the Oilers tied the game early in the second period, San Jose found the response that proved elusive in Tuesday's loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
“Win or lose, I think we wanted to do the right things,” Logan Couture said after the game. “I think we did good things but there’s still stuff we need to work on.”
Couture even went so far as to suggest that getting in the win column was secondary to re-establishing good habits.
“At this time of year, in these games, you take the win-loss out of it and you want to play the game you want to play in a week or so,” he explained. “For a lot of that game, I thought we did a good job.”
San Jose certainly did a much better job with sticking to a defensive game, blocking 16 shots compared to Edmonton's seven. The Sharks also played a good physical game – something they’ll need against the Vegas Golden Knights once the playoffs start – out-hitting the Oilers 24-15. Props also have to go to netminder Aaron Dell, who rebounded nicely from allowing a goal on the first shot he faced. Without some of Dell’s seven saves in the third period, the Sharks might not have won.
But Dell's big stops also revealed an area where the Sharks still need to improve, and that's expanding upon leads while shutting down opponents. When San Jose was at its best this season, relentless goal-scoring and stingy defense were the hallmarks.
In the last two road games of the regular season, the Sharks weren't able to expand upon their one-goal leads. That didn’t bite them against Edmonton like it did against Vancouver, but the takeaway is the same: The Sharks can't let opponents hang around. The Golden Knights can be a pain to beat if they’re given too much extra room to operate, especially in the playoffs.
“I still would like to see us put teams away and get a little bit of a cushion there,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer summarized.
With a one-goal lead in the third period, the Sharks didn't put the pedal to the metal offensively. The Oilers enjoyed a 7-5 edge in shots on goal in the final frame, and four of Edmonton's shots came from first-line threats Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
“I think we could’ve done a better job of attacking the third period. I thought we sat on our heels too much,” he said. “Would’ve liked to have seen us attack a little bit more instead of sit back and give them open ice. Which that top line loves to have. I would’ve changed that.”
But all in all, the good things the Sharks did Thursday will bring them one step closer to being ready for the playoffs next week. They still have some creases to iron out though, and one more regular season game to fix them.
“We’re working our way there,” DeBoer said. “It’s not there yet but I’m confident by next week it will be.”