After a quick stop in San Jose, the Sharks will head back on the road for a four-game swing that starts Tuesday in Buffalo against the Sabres.
Here’s a look at three keys to having a successful road trip.
1. Create offensive opportunities
If the Sharks get things going in the defensive zone, they’ll receive offensive opportunities. The Sabres (21-20-10) have had a hard time scoring goals this season. So do the Devils (22-21-10), who are the cellar-dwellar in a competitive Metropolitan Division. The Bruins (26-23-6) and Flyers (26-20-7) currently retain their playoff spots.
So far, offensive defenseman Brent Burns has been coming through with 22 goals and 33 assists — 16 on the power play — along with a plus-16 rating in 53 games. Burns is a significant part of Team Teal, but he’s not the only key offensive player. Captain Joe Pavelski compliments the star defenseman with 17 goals, five coming from the power play, along with 29 assists and a plus-eight rating in 53 games.
The Sharks must create a lot of chances and find opportunities to score because they’ve been playing slow hockey as of late.
Logan Couture told Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area Saturday night: “I don’t think we did a good enough job getting to the rebounds because there were a lot sitting around his crease tonight. We would have liked to bang a couple in there.”
2. Play defense
Defensive lapses have cost the Sharks some games. In the first half of the season, the injuries to Marc-Edouard Vlasic and David Schlemko left head coach Peter DeBoer with no other options than to switch up his defense pairs. Both players have recovered, but they’ve been struggling to put a few good games together. Vlasic has picked up zero goals and two assists in his last five games while Schlemko has collected just one assist in the same amount of time. The lack of production from Paul Martin, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon isn’t helping.
The Sharks have to play solid hockey to get points on this road trip. Playing good defense is a perfect place to start. If the defensive pairs kill off penalties on the power play, they’re going to limit second chance opportunities.
Martin Jones (27-15-3) has blocked 1,191 shots in 45 starts thus far. He has a 2.19 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. As the main netminder, Jones has to keep up the good work.
3. Handle the physicality
Saturday’s matchup between the Sharks and Coyotes showed how tough the “Desert Dogs” can be. On paper, the Coyotes are not on the Sharks’ level, but they can put up a fight or two. The Sharks have to find other ways to win.
The Coyotes are just a sample of physical hockey. Traveling through the Eastern Conference is likely going to be quite the experience for the Sharks. The Metropolitan Division is arguably the most competitive in hockey and the Atlantic Division is a close second. Games are going to get more physical and meaningful with playoffs on the horizon.
The Sharks have to ramp up their physicality and turn games into special teams battles in order to win games. San Jose has scored on just 29 out of 167 power play opportunities for a power play percentage of 17.7 percent so far.
Pavelski didn’t use the “terrible” ice as an excuse Saturday, telling Kurz: “You’ve got to make them count…We didn’t have any finish. It’s on us regardless of the ice, regardless of the situation.”
Fights are bound to happen in hockey, but the Sharks have to be desperate and capitalize with the man advantage.
Sharks split the road trip with wins against the Sabres and Devils.