SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) The playoffs started the way much of this season has gone for the San Jose Sharks: a successful road trip where structured defense, strong goaltending and solid all-around play led to two straight wins in Los Angeles.
Now the task for the Sharks is figuring out how to take that road success they have enjoyed all season and bring it back to San Jose where the once-imposing Shark Tank has become too comfortable for visiting teams.
The NHL’s top road team in the regular season lost more games on home ice than any other playoff team. It’s a similar pattern to last season when home struggles left San Jose outside the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and is somewhat perplexing giving how dominant the Sharks historically have been at home in front of their rabid fans.
“We’ve hit a little hiccup where the last couple of regular seasons we haven’t been as strong, but I don’t think it takes our confidence away at being home,” captain Joe Pavelski said Sunday. “It’s something you don’t dwell on. You know the fans are going to show up. I can already see what the atmosphere is going to be like as we skate out of the Shark head. It’s something we’re looking forward to.”
The Sharks will take a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 Monday night against the Kings in their first home playoff game since losing Game 7 to Los Angeles in the first round two years ago.
That defeat capped a collapse from a 3-0 series lead for the Sharks and has been a cloud over the franchise since. The best way to move past it completely is by knocking off the Kings this year.
“It’s a different year, different team. Everything is different,” center Patrick Marleau said. “We’re staying in the moment, staying in the present, and having fun with it.”
The Sharks have built this series lead with a much more sustainable plan than when they used a wide-open game to score 17 goals in the first three games against Jonathan Quick. San Jose has allowed just one even-strength goal all series, shut down Los Angeles stars Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli and successfully protected third-period leads.
“So far we’ve done a good job,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “Playing well as a team, it’s not just one guy playing well defensively. It’s everybody. Forwards have been doing a good job back-pressuring and the D’s standing up, so it’s a combination of both.”
That kind of commitment was lacking at times at home this season, when the Sharks won just 18 of 41 games. Eleven of those losses came against teams that missed the playoffs as San Jose often played to the level of the competition. The biggest difference in performance at home has been goaltending as the team’s save percentage jumps from .892 at home to .921 on the road as the defense gives up fewer quality scoring chances.
One of the best performances came just last month against these Kings when Martin Jones stopped 30 of 32 shots in a 5-2 win that clinched the playoffs for San Jose.
“The most important thing is we play well at home against good teams,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think if we’ve dropped the ball somewhere it’s been against some of the teams at the bottom half of the standings. That’s why my concern isn’t where you guys might think it should be because we won some really quality home games against good opponents the past couple of months.”