Programming note: Panthers-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – It’s finally over.
The Sharks’ stretch of 16 of their first 21 games on the road – the most road-heavy schedule in NHL history to start a season – is now a thing of the past, as San Jose will enjoy 11 of its next 13 games and 21 of the following 30 at SAP Center.
They are just 2-3-0 on home ice this season, but haven’t played more than two straight games here between some lengthy trips. Last season, the Sharks owned the best home record in the Western Conference, going 29-7-5.
“Collectively, this is an important chunk of games for us,” Todd McLellan said. “This is a really important time for our team, and we have to elevate our play. It has to be better than what it’s been to this point in the season. We get an opportunity to do it here at home.”
The Sharks’ play so far this season has been decidedly inconsistent, as they sit just 21st overall in the NHL with a .524 points percentage. They enter Thursday’s matchup with Florida with regulation losses in four of their last six games, including a 4-1 defeat to the Panthers in Florida on Nov. 11.
[IN THE CREASE: Sharks finally get stretch of home games]
The only game on the seven-game trip that they played well from start to finish was a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 13, and they’re coming off of a 4-1 loss to Buffalo – easily the worst team in the NHL this season – on Tuesday.
“A lot of road trips early in the season. It’s tough to do all those time zones, and all that travel, but it’s not an excuse,” Jason Demers said. “I think we had a lot of games that we didn’t play the way we should have, but that’s how it goes and that’s what happens. It’s a nice homestand, so we have to get all the points we can right now.”
The biggest question may be, are the Sharks’ issues the result of a lack of practice time, or are they not hungry enough?
McLellan weighed in.
“Any athlete that doesn’t get that opportunity to go out and work on his game and polish it up eventually is going to get a little bit rusty.
“That being said, practices don’t often improve the passion level or the compete level. That you bring on a nightly basis. If your skill set is starting to dwindle or of we’re in the wrong spots and not being able to do some of the things we want to do as a team, that’s practice. The commitment to your game and the drive and the passion, that’s an every day thing. You should be able to do that year-round without any practice time.”
A fair evaluation of the team is perhaps still elusive after so many frequent flier miles and so few practices. The next several weeks should provide more definitive answers.
Demers said: “I think the guys in here are refreshed to be home. We’ve got to take advantage of these home games and start piling on the wins.”