SAN JOSE – The Sharks are just 11-12-3 at home this season, but that doesn’t really tell the story of what’s been going on at SAP Center of late.
Headed into Friday night’s game against Buffalo, the Sharks have recorded points in nine straight there (6-0-3). While they’ve thrived on the road with a league-leading 45 points, they’ve been steadily been improving in their own building. That’s a good thing, too, because of the 23 games left on the schedule, 15 are at home.
It all adds up to a real opportunity for the Sharks - who would have to suffer a monumental collapse at this point to miss the playoffs - to challenge for the Pacific Division crown.
“Just our game in general – it’s way better,” said Joe Pavelski, when asked if the Sharks have fully moved on from their early home struggles. "When you’re at home, you can’t really cheat for offense. … You’ve got to play that consistent game, like we’ve done on the road.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “We’re in a great spot. We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting to get to this point, and now we have to make sure we take advantage of it.”
San Jose can get to within four points of first place Los Angeles tonight. The Sharks’ next eight opponents are all clubs that are not currently in playoff position, including three against Vancouver.
As for how he'll deploy his forwards, DeBoer didn't offer much of a hint after he significantly shuffled them for the final two periods of a 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado on Wednesday. The Sharks had an optional morning skate.
When asked if he would roll the lines he started or finished with in the Avs game, DeBoer replied “somewhere in between,” with a laugh.
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One area of potential concern for the Sharks is their penalty killing, which has fallen to 23rd in the NHL. Over the last seven games, San Jose has allowed six goals-against on 18 opponent power plays, including one in each of the last three games.
New defenseman Roman Polak spent exactly one minute on the ice against Colorado on the PK, including when Jarome Iginla tied the game in the third period with a powerful one-timer. The Avs had just 2:22 of power play time on the night.
Polak admitted that learning the penalty killing system on a new team has its challenges.
“It’s tough, but it’s part of the business,” Polak said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”
DeBoer hasn’t expressed any panic regarding the Sharks penalty killing all season, as it has ebbed and flowed throughout the five months he's been in charge.
“I’m very comfortable with the fundamentals of our penalty kill,” he said. “When it gets down to it, I’m very confident that it’s going to be very good. Throughout a season you’re going to have those ups and downs.”
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Tommy Wingels remains out of the lineup with a sprained left shoulder, and there is no timeframe for his return.
“Getting better every day,” he said. “Something like this, it’s tough to tell if you’re going to be out a couple days or a couple weeks. It’s just about hoping that it feels better every day. In terms of when I’m able to play next, I wish I knew. Hopefully it’s on the shorter end here.”
Wingels is able to skate and shoot pucks, but “not at the strength I need to be.”
The 27-year-old forward has missed the last three games after getting tangled up with Aaron Ekblad in Florida on Feb. 18 and falling hard into the wall.
“He’s actually probably ahead of schedule,” said DeBoer, who earlier in the week said Wingels was questionable for Wednesday’s game in Colorado.