Programming note: Sharks-Blue Jackets coverage starts Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
Will the real San Jose Sharks please stand up?
On Thursday night in Tampa Bay, the Sharks put together one of their most complete team efforts in a 2-1 win over the club that not only entered with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but was on a 6-0-1 run including four straight home wins.
The Sharks outplayed the Lightning in every facet of the game – even strength (the Sharks generated 71 shots attempts to 54 from the Lightning); special teams (San Jose fired 12 shots at the net on the power play and scored on a Tyler Kennedy goal just after an advantage had expired, and killed off a long five-on-three in the third period); and goaltending (Antti Niemi made a number of huge stops throughout and was just a bit better than Ben Bishop, ending a personal three-game losing skid).
San Jose’s last two games are nearly a mirror image with what they did a couple weeks ago, losing to the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 25, 2-1, but then responding with a 4-1 victory the next night against the Ducks, who were leading the Western Conference and riding a seven-game winning streak.
It’s early enough in the season that the Sharks can still pronounce that they’re trying to find their identity. That’s fair, as the team made some changes in the offseason that don’t need to be mentioned for the umpteenth time.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Niemi, Sharks fend off Lightning]
But, it’s still a little peculiar that they can look so bad one night, and so strong the next.
“It’s a long season. You try to get up for all 82, but it is hard,” Joe Thornton told Comcast SportsNet after the game. “Sometimes, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t happen. We’ve been addressing it. We try to get better at it. But, this was hopefully a little bit of a catapult for the rest of the road trip for us.”
Todd McLellan said: “As far as complete games, it was one of our better ones of the season. … There was a lot of passion and energy in the lineup tonight. We lacked that in Florida, so it was nice to see us respond.”
The most consistent aspect of the Sharks game lately has been special teams. Although Kennedy’s goal came just after a penalty expired and officially they were 0-for-3, the Sharks generated 12 power play shots and both units looked dangerous. San Jose sits fifth in the NHL with a 24.1 percent success rate on the power play.
The penalty kill, a strength for the team last season, has now killed off 15 of its last 17 chances against in the last six games. Against the Lightning, a two-man disadvantage for one minute and 11 seconds in the third period, with San Jose holding a 2-0 edge, was a key moment.
“It was a huge kill for us. We think that the penalty kill is a strong point of our team,” Tommy Wingels told reporters after the game. “We have a lot of confidence in it. The guys that were out there did a heck of a job.”
McLellan said: “It was the difference in the game. … We were able to get one, or right at the end of the power play find a way to strike, and they didn’t. Five-on-three, we watched a number of clips where they are a very dangerous team with their shooters. Nemo stood his ground, and did a very good job.”
Taking a peek at the standings, the Sharks have a great opportunity to come home with a pocketful of points in their next three games against Columbus, which will try to end a nine-game losing streak on Friday in Philadelphia, followed by matchups against struggling Carolina and Buffalo.
Show up the way they did against the Lightning and Ducks, and they will have success. Play the way they did against the Panthers on Tuesday, and the same old questions will keep coming up about this team’s mental capacity.
“We’ve got to refocus and bring that same energy and passion,” McLellan said. “If we have that, we have a chance. If we don’t, we really put ourselves behind the eight ball.”