November features a San Jose Sharks road trip through the Eastern Conference.
Here’s an objective look of how a lengthy road trip can make or break the Sharks.
A road trip can provide opportunities for the team to bond, get together and have some fun away from the usual hockey activities.
Tuesday marked the first meeting between the two teams, as the struggling Sharks began a six-game road trip starting with a stop in the nation’s capital to face the red-hot Washington Capitals.
The Sharks called up forward Kevin Labanc yesterday. Labanc made his NHL debut against the Capitals. The Staten Island native skated on the second line with Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture.
The Sharks need to incorporate Labanc into the lineup. Labanc has shown promise with the Barracuda, mainly with the kid line alongside Nikolay Goldobin and Rourke Chartier.
San Jose has a lot of offensive depth because their forward lines are stacked. Popular players such as Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson give the Sharks a much-needed spark when they need it the most.
On the other hand, the fourth line of Michael Haley, Chris Tierney and Tommy Wingels is an example of a weakness. They combine for just six points (one goal, five assists) so far this season. If given ice time, the trio has to focus on working hard and developing chemistry.
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer is focused on the game as a whole.
“I’m not worried about our record, it’s early for that,” DeBoer said Saturday. “I want our game in the right place. We’ve got some guys that are not at the levels they need to be at yet.”
The Sharks have to keep it simple on the road after a difficult 5-0 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday. They did absolutely nothing after trailing 2-0 after the first period. San Jose came in unprepared, which has caused the team emotional distress.
The team needs to put together a cohesive defensive unit.
Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are the standouts in a group of spiritless defensemen. In their last 13 games, Burns recorded 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and Vlasic posted five points (two goals, three assists).
Paul Martin, Justin Braun, Brenden Dillon and David Schlemko need to get their mojo back. They have to become defensive pairs that can be relied on in all situations.
Travel is another concern.
The Sharks travel in a higher level of comfort, but time zones remain an issue. The National Sleep Foundation says studies have shown that travelling across time zones result in an imbalance in the human body’s natural “biological clock.” Frequent air travel can take a toll on one’s health and well-being, which may lead to poor performance in hockey games.
Jet lag is a disorder associated with travel. The likelihood of getting jet lag is arguably greater travelling from the west to the east. Jet lag has a bigger effect on people who lose hours instead of gaining them. So, a player’s performance could be hindered depending on how much time it takes to recover.
A demanding travel schedule could limit the amount of practice time. Changes in the lineup may not occur because the Sharks’ coaching staff is most likely under pressure. Practice is an important factor in a team’s success.
The Sharks shutout the Capitals 3-0 Tuesday night, but it’s just one game, and the outcome could go either way. With five games left, San Jose has an opportunity to make a lasting impression, like they did last season.
The Sharks completed a perfect trip for the first time in franchise history on Nov. 22, 2015. They scored four unanswered goals after they trailed 3-1 early in the third period. San Jose became the first NHL team to sweep a trip of at least six games. The last team to win every game of a trip of at least six games was the Boston Bruins, who won six straight from Feb. 17 to March 1, 2011.
“That third period showed the character in this room,” Brenden Dillon told the San Jose Mercury News. “We were never going to get down. We were never going to let off the gas.”
The Sharks went on to finish the season with a record-high 28 road wins in the NHL.
San Jose has a precious opportunity to dominate on this road trip. They won’t complete a sweep, but they can get better and improve as a team.