The two-time defending champs can afford to do this: The Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off their West Coast swing on Tuesday with a 6-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, and from what I understand, had a pretty good time in Southern California before losing 5-1 on Friday in Anaheim.
Their mandate coming into SAP Center for a back-to-back against the San Jose Sharks? Flip the switch, come out of California with two of three.
The Sharks didn’t know what hit them: The Lightning struck again and again and again and again and were up 4-0 just 12:32 into the contest.
“That team exposes you when you don’t compete,” Andrew Cogliano acknowledged. “They can beat you even when you compete at your highest level. But when you don’t compete, you’re not even close to their level. It gets embarrassing really fast.”
“If you want to compete, play with the big guys, you have to bring your A-game. And we definitely didn’t do that from the drop of the puck,” head coach Bob Boughner offered. “The first 10 minutes were a disaster.”
So what can San Jose learn from getting embarrassed 7-1?
“We thought we were close to their level,” a dejected Cogliano said. “Proves that we’re not even close.”
At face value, that’s a strange quote — the Tampa Bay Lightning have won the last two Stanley Cups and the San Jose Sharks have missed the last two playoffs — but what would you expect from a winning athlete like Cogliano? We know, he knows the Sharks aren’t the Lightning, but you have to have a winner’s mindset if you’re Cogliano.
But the quote also reminds us of the difference in the margin of error between the two-time defending champs and the Sharks: Tampa Bay can afford to take one night off and turn it on the next night, San Jose cannot. The Lightning can afford to take periods off, the Sharks cannot.
Frankly, because of a lack of overall depth and talent, the Sharks are forced to play a defense-first system to keep games close. If the last two seasons suggest anything, they’re not sniffing a playoff spot if they open it up offensively. Instead, San Jose is hanging onto the last wild card spot in the West right now, albeit with Calgary, Dallas, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Vancouver snapping at their heels and all with games in hand.
Planning to win 3-2 every night might be the San Jose Sharks’ ticket to success, but that’s also a pretty exhausting race to run over an 82-game season, especially for a group that isn’t naturally attuned to a defense-first mentality, be it because of Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson, Norris Trophy winners in large part because of their offensive dominance, and a slew of youngsters playing big minutes like Noah Gregor, Mario Ferraro, Ryan Merkley, and Jonathan Dahlen.
It’s a white-knuckle ride, for better or worse, every night when you’re trying to make every game a one-goal game.
That would wear on anybody.
But the San Jose Sharks can’t be just anybody if they want to make something of their season.
Are they more than what we expect? It’s time for them to prove it.
The gauntlet is before them right now: The two-time defending champs last night, perennial Eastern power Capitals in Washington on Wednesday, Cup contenders Florida and Carolina on the road in a back-to-back, the Lightning again in Tampa Bay before they come home.
“It’s just one game,” captain Logan Couture reminded us of last night’s defeat. “Stay positive. That’s really all you can do. It’s easy to feel down, bad about your game and yourself and the team after a game like tonight, loss in Seattle the other night. Look at some positives, remind ourselves that we’re still in a position to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs coming down the stretch.”
Two weeks ago, the Sharks appeared to be sinking after ugly losses in Pittsburgh and Detroit. San Jose rallied with a three-game winning streak.
“The difference is, we were playing in buildings like Buffalo and in Philadelphia. No disrespect to those teams, but we’re going to come up against a couple monsters here,” Boughner admitted.
Well, you got to beat some monsters if you want to be a monster one day.
“A couple of our veterans were okay [tonight], but not enough. I thought the young guys struggled,” Boughner shared. “Without mentioning names, there’s a lot of guys who really struggled out there, didn’t look like they were ready.”
The Sharks, young and old alike, better be ready for the Capitals on Wednesday. The team’s biggest test this season awaits.
Who are the San Jose Sharks? We’re about to find out.
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