The San Jose Sharks never managed to climb out of the deep hole they dug with a slow start last season.
Avoiding the same fate this year is a high priority for the Sharks, especially with the condensed 56-game schedule and the extended road trip they’re on to start this season.
“That’s our main focus right now,” captain Logan Couture said. “The last two years, we broke camp and we didn’t play well for the first how many games of the season. I think this year, everyone’s not going to play any preseason games. Some teams are going to have even shorter camps than we will. Whoever has the best camp, I think is going to get out to a good start. With a shortened season every game means a little bit more.”
The Sharks lost their first four games and 11 out of 15 to open the 2019-20 season. They never truly recovered and coach Peter DeBoer was fired in December 2019 and replaced by Bob Boughner, who remains on the job this season.
San Jose finished the season in last place in the Western Conference. It marked just the second time the Sharks missed the playoffs since the start of the 2003-04 season.
They face some hurdles this season after being forced from the Bay Area to Arizona for training camp because of COVID-19 protocols that currently ban contact sports in Santa Clara County.
The Sharks will play their first eight games on the road and hope to be able to return home after that if the rules are loosened.
“It’s going to be a long time away from home, which is difficult,” forward Evander Kane said. “But hopefully it gives us the best opportunity to play our home games at home this season and have as normal a season as possible.”
If the Sharks are going to have success they will need better play in goal, where they ranked third worst in save percentage last season and the worst over the past two years. Martin Jones is third worst over that span as a heavy workload has taken a toll. San Jose acquired Devan Dubnyk this offseason to share some of the burden. Dubnyk had the second-worst save percentage last season in Minnesota but had posted much better numbers the previous five seasons.
Injuries played a big part in San Jose’s struggles last season with defenseman Erik Karlsson limited by groin and thumb injuries, and Tomas Hertl (knee) and Couture (ankle) also missing significant time with serious ailments. The extended time off has helped all three recover and Karlsson is the healthiest he has been since joining the Sharks before the 2018-19 season.
Karlsson has only shown flashes of the ability that made him a two-time Norris Trophy winner in Ottawa since joining San Jose. If he can get back to that level that will go a long way in helping the Sharks become contenders again.
Patrick Marleau is back in San Jose for his 23rd season in the NHL after being dealt to Pittsburgh before last year’s trade deadline. Marleau still is one of the fastest skaters but had only 11 goals and 11 assists in 66 games last season. Marleau has played 854 consecutive games and needs to play 45 games this season to break Gordie Howe’s career record of 1,767. If he doesn’t miss a game he will break the record on April 19 at Vegas.
The Sharks brought in Dubnyk for another option in goal, along with forward Ryan Donato from Minnesota in hopes of finding another scoring forward. Forward Fredrik Handemark was signed from Sweden and Matt Nieto was brought back for a second stint to contribute as depth forwards. The biggest change is the departure of Joe Thornton to Toronto. Thornton has been the face of the franchise since being acquired in 2005 and will be missed on the ice and as a vocal leader in the locker room.
After starting the season with an eight-game road trip, the Sharks are scheduled to play their first two home games Feb. 1 and 3 against Vegas. But it’s uncertain whether those games will be in San Jose. They play six of their next eight games on the road after that before finishing the season with 24 of their last 38 at home.
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