When the San Jose Sharks acquired Erik Karlsson from Ottawa, many expected them to be the team to beat in the Western Conference. They’ve been far from terrible for the most part, but prior to Sunday’s 3-1 win in Montreal they had been struggling pretty badly.
The win over the Canadiens came at an opportune time because it allowed them to salvage two more points during a road trip that wasn’t so fruitful. The Sharks came into the game having gone 0-3-1 on a trip that took them to Vegas, Buffalo, Toronto and Ottawa. Thankfully for head coach Peter DeBoer, his team saved their most complete performance for the last game, as they dominated the Habs for most of Sunday’s clash.
“The tone was, ‘We can figure this out, we have the team to win games in this League,'” San Jose forward Logan Couture said, per NHL.com. “It takes a full buy-in from everyone to do things right and I think tonight is a step in that direction. I thought we did a lot of the little things well (on Sunday).
“We got in shooting lanes, we played hard, you know, we were hard on the walls. I think we can still do a better job at getting pucks out in the third when they pinched down a bunch of times, but we’ll take the win.”
San Jose is now sitting in third place in the Pacific Division behind Calgary (three points) and Anaheim (two points). So as inconsistent as they’ve been, they only find themselves three points away from the top. On the down side, Dallas and Minnesota, who are in Wild Card positions right now, are breathing down the Sharks’ neck. Vegas, who is on the outside looking in, is only two points back of San Jose.
The Sharks have found a way to be effective on special teams, but they need some work at even strength. Their power play currently ranks 11th in the NHL at 22.8 percent and their penalty kill is second at 88.5 percent. Both units have done their part. At even strength though, the Sharks are 16th in goals for, with 60, and they’re 29th in goals against, with 72. That last number will have to change if they’re going to be serious contenders in the West.
Sure, the goaltending from Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has to be better, but teams have found a way to pounce on their high-danger scoring chances against the Sharks. San Jose gets their share of high-danger scoring opportunities, but they’ve also allowed to score a league-high 43 goals from high-danger areas, per Natural Stat Trick. That’s an issue. The Sharks typically get more opportunities from dangerous areas, but they’re being outscored 43-28 on those chances this season. They need to find a way to limit the degree of quality looks that teams are getting against them.
On a positive note, Jones came up with a solid 40-save performance against Montreal, but the team in front of him limited the obvious scoring chances. That’s not to say that he wasn’t forced to make big saves because he did. They need to find a way to keep this going.
If they can tighten up and build off the win in Montreal, they should be able to emerge as a serious threat in the second half of the year. That’s a big “if” though.
The Sharks will return home for one game against Carolina on Tuesday night before heading back on the road for back-to-back games in Arizona and Dallas on Friday and Saturday. They’ll then play six of their following eight games at the Shark tank, where they’re 8-3-2.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.