SAN JOSE – The most significant and puzzling narrative regarding the 2015-16 Sharks will now continue into mid-April.
San Jose will begin its playoff run in either Honda Center or Staples Center next week, depending on which of those two California rivals finishes in second place in the Pacific Division. A 5-4 home loss to the Jets on Thursday ensured that.
It also dropped the Sharks to just 17-20-3 (37 points) in their own building, headed into Saturday’s finale with Arizona. While San Jose has already clinched the league’s best road record, it is 28th at home.
Even if they win Saturday, the Sharks will only equal their worst season at home since 1997-98 when they were 17-19-5 for 39 points. If they lose to the Coyotes, it will be their lowest point total since 1996-97 (14-23-4, 32 points).
Starting its playoff run on the road may not be the worst thing for this perplexing club.
“Well if we keep winning, obviously not,” Joe Pavelski said. “But, it doesn’t really matter I guess where you start. ... You’re going to have to gut out a few wins on the road, you’re going to have to be solid at home.
“This group believes we are going to be solid at home. We’re excited for the fans [to be] back in the playoffs. That energy – that picture is vivid of the fans in the playoffs.”
That energy, though, hasn’t exactly been the same this season as the Sharks have struggled to fill their own building.
Despite officially clinching a playoff spot last week, the SAP Center crowd on Thursday against the Jets was among the worst of the season. Sure, the Jets aren’t a rival, and the Warriors-Spurs game probably ate into attendance, too, but perhaps the Sharks’ home building isn’t nearly as intimidating to other teams as it used to be in the past. Whether it will even be sold out for games three and four of the first round remains to be seen.
The way they're fared in recent years also suggests the Sharks might be better off starting the playoffs elsewhere. In 2014, the Sharks lost games five and seven to the Kings at home by a combined 8-1 score. In 2013, the Sharks won their first two games in Vancouver in the first round before finishing off a sweep of the Canucks with wins in games three and four at home.
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Along with their issues at home, the Sharks lately have had a tendency to play down to their competition. Five of their last seven losses have come to teams that will miss the postseason.
Against teams in the playoffs as of Friday morning, the Sharks have won 10 of their last 12 dating back to early February. Even the two losses, to Dallas and St. Louis at home, were games in which the Sharks were pleased with their overall effort.
After Thursday’s loss in which the Sharks were out-competed by the last place Jets, Paul Martin said: "We basically know we can't play like that if we want to win games. But in the grand scheme, we know how we have to play to win hockey games. Especially against top teams, we tend to play our better games instead of playing down to other teams' level. I have confidence that we'll bounce back."
Tommy Wingels said: “We’re disappointed in the loss because you want to be playing your best hockey going into the playoffs. The teams that are doing that are the teams that succeed in playoff series, so that’s something that we need to improve on.”