MONTREAL – The Sharks knew way back in June, when the NHL schedule was first revealed, that a seven-game road trip in March three time zones away was not going to be ideal. That’s amplified even more now that the team still remains outside of the playoff picture, with difficult odds to make it back into the top eight.
Still, the trip could be much more taxing. The Sharks have days off between each of the first six games, including on Friday in Montreal, where they held a very optional skate in which most of the players stayed off of the ice.
After arriving into town well past midnight after their win in Toronto, the Sharks held a brief team meeting in the visitor’s dressing room at Bell Centre.
“It’s nice because we get in late, and it gives you that extra day to kind of rest up for a tough game ahead,” Justin Braun said. “The schedule doesn’t get any easier as we go forward here. The top team in the league tomorrow, and we need to be rested and ready to go for them.”
The biggest hurdle to clear comes early in the trip, according to Antti Niemi. “It’s the long flights and time difference, getting used to that,” he said.
Friday’s meeting was a positive one after a convincing 4-1 win over the sorry Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre ended the Sharks’ two-game losing skid. This late in the year it would be redundant for the coaches to go over strategy and systems, but there is still value in video, if only to remind the group of the positive feelings earned less than 24 hours earlier.
“Today we watched the little things that make our team go and make our team win – sacrifice, and things that aren’t seen on the scoresheet after the game but things that are just as important throughout the game,” Tommy Wingels said. “We need to be confident at this point if we want to make the playoffs. You can get better watching film, and today we did.”
Facing the Canadiens won’t be easy. If the season ended today Montreal would be the winner of the President’s Trophy, awarded to the top team in the regular season. The Canadiens are tied with Anaheim with 97 points, but have two more regulation/overtime wins than the Ducks.
They also don’t have to rewind the clock too far to remember the last time they played the Sharks, and what transpired. San Jose skated to a 4-0 home win on March 2, just hours after the NHL trade deadline in what was one of the Sharks’ more impressive wins of the season.
The Canadiens are 23-8-5 in their raucous home building, including a 4-0 shutout of Carolina on Thursday.
“I’m sure they’re not going to be too pleased with the way things ended in San Jose,” Todd McLellan said. “It’s just another huge challenge that our group has to face, but it’s one challenge at a time.”
Energy, at least, shouldn’t be an issue. Duplicating their strong effort against Toronto – something the Sharks have struggled to do much of the season – will be necessary against one of the best teams in the league.
“It’s our job mentally to be prepared and rested,” Wingels said. “It’s a better day off when you come off a win. You feel good about yourself, you feel good about your team game.”