The San Jose Sharks’ greatest enemy, at least for the rest of this season, won’t be the Golden Knights or the Avalanche or any other West rival: It will be themselves.
Even after a 2-1 victory over the Kings, the Sharks are still floundering in the standings, nine points out of the fourth and final playoff berth.
But where San Jose is above water is the team’s improved culture – so they say, at least – represented by the so-called Sharks Code.
26 games to go in the season, this new-found culture is about to be put to the test by the stress of the Trade Deadline, the monotony of potential meaningless game after meaningless game, and the lure of players chasing their own stats as the Sharks slip further and further out of the playoff picture.
What’s at stake is more than just wins and losses: Will the San Jose Sharks, like they did last year, fracture as the losses pile up?
“We talked about that exactly this morning. When frustration sets in, you get away from your core values and the code that we set at the beginning of the year. That’s human nature,” Bob Boughner said before the game.
Why is it important to uphold these values – team-first play, good practice habits, supporting your teammates – even when you’re losing? For one, you’re still trying to establish these values in youngsters Mario Ferraro, John Leonard, Nikolai Knyzhov, and others. These players are the future of the San Jose Sharks.
“Two paths to go down right now. The one path you don’t want to even think about,” Boughner acknowledged. “The other path, you want to fight and stay in this thing. Compete and have fun together and enjoy coming to the rink together everyday and working hard.”
We’re more than halfway through the season, but the San Jose Sharks can still grow.
Here’s one way: After their Mar. 17 loss to Vegas, I wrote about how San Jose lost control during that game. I’ve also written many times about the Sharks’ penchant for giving up goals in bunches this season.
“We talked about just being a team that needs to be more composed, that handles the adversity you get through the game, whether it’s the bad call the other night, you got to go out, you got to kill that penalty. Or you got nine minutes to go, if you let one in, you got to try and find a way to get back. We didn’t do either,” Boughner said after morning skate yesterday.
The bad call that he was referring to was the Patrick Marleau faceoff violation penalty in a 2-2 game and the subsequent Ryan O’Reilly goal. The Blues would win 5-2.
He added: “Same thing in Vegas, when we’re in control of the game and it starts getting physical, we lost Cooch and Hertl. And then, we didn’t get the job done there.”
There’s also the discipline of not looking too far ahead.
“We can’t think about where we’re going to be in the middle of April right now,” Boughner said. “We got to worry about where we’re going to be Sunday with one good week of hockey. Things can change quick, everybody’s got a heavy schedule, and you got to get on a run.”
In theory, for the San Jose Sharks’ youngsters, these will all be important things to experience at the highest level in the coming months. But it’s still up to Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and company to lead the way.
“It starts with your best players, you got to get the job done,” Boughner said.
“Especially with the schedule, when you are fatigued, and you’re one of the guys that plays a lot of minutes, you got to manage your game better. Whether that’s shorter shifts, whether that’s making better puck decisions, just simplifying your game a little bit in those situations.
“We felt really good about our game, up until the point where things went bad on us. At those point in times is where you need someone to step up and you need your leadership group to settle things down and be composed.”
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.