There’s never been a road trip like this.
The San Jose Sharks capped off their 30th day on the road — which includes a training camp that began in Scottsdale on Dec. 30 — with a lethargic 3-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
“It looks like a team that’s been on the road for  days,” Bob Boughner acknowledged of his 3-5-0 squad.
The 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks dealt with an NHL-record 14-game, 42-day road trip because of the 2010 Winter Olympics. But that was actually two road trips — an eight-game set from Jan. 30 to Feb. 14 and a six-game set from Mar. 2 to Mar. 10. In between, most Canucks players enjoyed a two-week Olympic break.
Regardless, Alex Burrows didn’t always know what city he was in.
“[It was also] which day it is, what time it is, where am I really,” he told The Canadian Press in March 2010.
Vancouver went 8-5-1 en route to the Northwest Division crown.
The 1987-88 Calgary Flames went through a continuous 11-game, 27-day road trip because of the 1988 Winter Olympics. They went 5-5-1
“We wear a lot of polyester and thank God for dry cleaners,” Flames head coach Terry Crisp quipped. (“Olympics make orphans of NHL’s Calgary Flames.” Associated Press. February 23, 1988.)
Calgary went 5-5-1 en route to the Smythe Division crown.
But those trips were quaint compared to what San Jose is enduring because of the pandemic. Because of COVID-19 precautions, Sharks players are generally confined to their hotel rooms, seeing each other pretty much at practice or during games. They’re not allowed to golf or do other things to blow off steam on the road.
It’s pretty much solitary confinement with ice time — albeit in luxury.
Regardless, a relentless diet of Netflix, FaceTime, DoorDash, and your balcony view might be catching up to the Sharks.
“Sometimes, it’s nice when you’re home because you don’t think about the hockey,” Tomas Hertl, who has a three-month-old son waiting for him at home, admitted. “But when you’re in a hotel for 30 days, you’re just thinking about the hockey because we have nothing else.”
Following the Gameplan
The San Jose Sharks were legitimately better defensively tonight than in their 7-3 loss to the Avs on Tuesday.
But underscoring the competitive chasm between the two squads — one a true Cup contender, the other barely a playoff contender — this counts for better: Per SPORTLOGiQ, in All Situations, the Avalanche cruised to a 22-7 Slot Shots on Net advantage. It got especially ugly in the final frame, when the vagabonds were steamrolled 14-4 in this category.
But there were moments when you did see San Jose genuinely adjust to Colorado’s attack. Those moments were few and far between on Tuesday.
For example, Bob Boughner asked for more shot blocking and a better reading of the rush here:
The Avalanche love to send their fast, skilled defensemen in late on a play — or on delay.
“It all came off of reading the rush and delays,” Boughner said of Tuesday’s massacre. “When they delay, there’s a certain job that we want done.”
Dylan Gambrell does a nice job picking up Samuel Girard here:
0:02 Colorado loves establishing possession in the zone than having defensemen roll in late — Andre Burakovsky (95) curls to hit Girard (49) coming off the bench.
0:04 Gambrell (7) is waiting.
0:08 Boughner also wanted better box-outs — Brent Burns (88) walls off Gabriel Landeskog (92) beautifully in front of the net. This allows Devan Dubnyk to see the Nazem Kadri (91) shot.
0:18 This time, Matt Nieto (83) blocks Girard.
It’s a passive defense — it’s not pretty — but it appears to be the gameplan.
Not the Gameplan
However, another punchless power play definitely wasn’t part of the gameplan, especially after the San Jose Sharks shook up the units.
Ryan Donato-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc-Erik Karlsson-Burns made up the top unit, while Evander Kane-Tomas Hertl-Kevin Labanc-Noah Gregor-Mario Ferraro formed the second group. Interestingly, Karlsson and Burns switched positions, with Burns up top and Karlsson on the right wall. Karlsson also became the primary drop pass receiver for zone entry, Burns the quarterback.
Both units, however, were bad, especially in a scoreless first period where they had a couple chances to give San Jose an early lead.
So what’s wrong with a PP that started the season 5-for-11 and is 1-for-23 since?
“Almost everything. We’re not sharp enough. We don’t have many chances. We’re fighting with the puck,” Hertl shared. “Always, 10 seconds, they’re clearing it. We have to simplify. Get to the net.”
Also not in the Sharks’ gameplan?
Inconsistent play this season from stars like Hertl, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Erik Karlsson.
“To beat teams like this, you need your best players to be the best,” Boughner said. “I thought they were okay. Just okay.”
Hertl took responsibility: “We need the top guys to be the top guys.”
If San Jose’s best players are going to be their best players, it better happen fast. Next up: Another genuine Cup contender, the Vegas Golden Knights, pending COVID-19 clearance.
A bad 3-5-0 start can turn hideous real quick and might reveal a truth: Some of the Sharks’ top players aren’t top players.
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