Sharks’ Road Play Improves

The Sharks made a huge statement on the road with big wins in Detroit and Philadelphia.

After losing at home to the Red Wings 5-2, the Sharks went to the Joe and beat the Red Wings by the same score. Two days later they erased a three goal deficit and picked up two points against a capable Flyers team.

Though they ended the road trip with a disappointing 6-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres (who are heating up in the East), things are definitely looking up.

Yes, the Sharks’ had their struggles in some periods. San Jose was slow to turn on the heat against Detroit in period one, but they kept the proverbial foot on the accelerator throughout the rest of the game. The Sharks also struggled in the second periods against Buffalo and Philadelphia. These droughts of energy and effort are marked with faceoff losses, low shot count, and strong opportunities against, but by and large, it’s clear that their road play is much improved.

On Monday night against Detroit, Wednesday night against Philadelphia, and the third period in Buffalo Thursday night, the Sharks’ offense was relentless. Opportunities were created all around the net and both Jimmy Howard and Sergei Bobrovsky had their work cut out for them. The Sharks offense moved the puck well, won face-offs in all three zones, and crashed the net.

The best attacker on the road trip was Logan Couture who scored four goals and another in the shootout against Philly. Couture is making himself a name to watch out for. His offensive contributions have kept San Jose in games and have helped energize the team.

Couture’s linemate Ryane Clowe also deserves a lot of credit for the Sharks’ success on the offensive. He has made it hard for teams to rush puck out of their defensive zone, protected the puck, and pursued the puck to create scoring chances for Couture. Dany Heatley also put up a strong effort with one goal and a number of great chances, more so against the Red Wings and the Flyers than against the Sabres. Joe Pavelski has also kept his feet moving picking up a goal on the trip. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were good during the first two games of the trip but were quiet against Buffalo, they must be active on every shift otherwise it will be up to Couture and Clowe to win every game.

The defense has been getting better with helping the offense. The defense has been hitting the net with shots as opposed to missing the net allowing for defenses to clear the zone. Niclas Wallin hit the net with a few shots and scored one. He set the trend for the defense helping out the offense on the road trip. Jason Demers followed Wallin’s lead by tallying a goal against Detroit. Then Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic got on the bandwagon against Buffalo. Hitting the net from the blue line is important for the future success of the Sharks.

In the defensive end, the Sharks’ blue liners have done a good job keeping attackers at bay. Although coverage is sometimes lacked on rushes and broken plays, the overall defense has been strong. Opponents have been kept to the outside. The surprising play of Justin Braun has kept the defense in the game during the absences of the Sharks’ best two players in the defensive end Murray and Wallin. Wallin and Murray have been physical and have done a good job putting the body on opponents to keep them out of the play.

The defense could use some improvement. Zone entries have been easy against San Jose and the lack of physicality by the Sharks’ blue line has allowed for other teams to amount attacks that should be stopped at the blue line, but persist because single attackers are allowed to stay on their feet. Look for that to get harder as Murray and Wallin continue to make their comebacks to the lineup.

At this point of the season, the goaltending received from Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi has been almost identical. Their play has been strong and has kept the Sharks in position to win games. No goals against have been regrettable on the road trip. The goaltending has become a weapon for the Sharks because they have two strong goaltenders to rely on and the team is being supplied with the confidence to make them a tough team to beat.

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