SAN JOSE, Calif. – Just a month ago, Jeremy Roenick wasn’t totally sure his struggling San Jose Sharks would make the NHL playoffs, even with all their talent, experience and depth.
After the longest winning streak in franchise history, Roenick’s only remaining question is whether the Sharks can ride this wave all the way into June.
San Jose’s club-record 11-game roll ended Sunday night, but the 2-1 shootout loss to Edmonton still produced the Sharks’ 23rd point in 12 games. Led by a rejuvenated captain, a new defenceman and a tireless goalie, San Jose has replied to the doubters who saw the pre-season Stanley Cup favourites’ first 60 games as a disappointment – particularly the five before their winning run.
“We had that five-game losing streak, and when you’re in a playoff race and you get scared of actually missing the playoffs, it gets your attention,” said Roenick, recalling a miserable trip from New Jersey to Philadelphia right before the streak began. “Everything started going right at that time, and it just built on itself. It’s an energy, and everybody thrives off it. We feel really confident right now.”
With 93 points, the Sharks (42-21-3-6) have leaped three points ahead of Anaheim and four in front of Dallas in the tight Pacific Division after mostly trailing for 4 1/2 months. Only Detroit, the overall NHL leader seven points ahead of San Jose, has a better record.
“With a little bit of luck, we might be able to reel Detroit in,” coach Ron Wilson said. “But you want to just keep on plugging and win the games in hand.”
San Jose also has two games in hand on both of its division rivals, putting the Sharks in control of their hopes to avoid a rough first-round playoff matchup. The Pacific winner will get the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference post-season, while the second-and third-place teams are almost certain to play each other in the first round.
Just in case the players forget, Wilson’s typically detail-oriented staff has posted a spreadsheet outside the locker-room with every playoff contender’s point total and remaining schedule.
“Absolutely, every single day,” defenceman Craig Rivet said when asked if he checks the standings. “Guys are very aware of what’s happening. We’re in a dogfight to try and get second place. Guys know the repercussions if we don’t. We want to be the team that has the home-ice advantage.”
The Sharks seemingly have had every advantage ever since defenceman Brian Campbell arrived from the Buffalo Sabres two games into the winning streak. Campbell, a two-time all-star and a cornerstone of Buffalo’s back-to-back conference finalists, has been even better than San Jose expected. He immediately assumed a lead role on the Sharks’ power play, logging heavy minutes and scoring 11 points in 10 games.
Maybe Joe Thornton is rubbing off on him: Campbell is living at his childhood buddy’s Silicon Valley home until he finds a place.
“It’s easier to play on this team with as much talent as we have,” Campbell said. “Everybody on the ice is capable of scoring. I feel pretty fortunate to be in a lineup like that.”
While Campbell was the Sharks’ biggest addition, Patrick Marleau seems like a new player as well. After struggling mightily through the first 60 games, Marleau has been outstanding since the trade deadline passed.
He has six goals and three assists in the 10 games since he learned he would stay in teal, including the Sharks’ only goal against Edmonton. Marleau insists the trade deadline made no difference to him, even when his departure from his only NHL team seemed to be part of every rumour emanating from Canada.
“He can say that he wasn’t worried all he wants,” Roenick said. “The fact of the matter is that we all get worried at that time, not just Patty. After it did pass by, I think he did settle down and put those worries out of his mind. This is a game for the free of mind, and if you get cluttered, you’re going to look out of place. I think he feels much better for it. Everybody has been waiting for Patty to get going, and he told us he was going to get going, and he has.”
Evgeni Nabokov is likely to get just his third night off all year when the Sharks play at league-worst Los Angeles on Tuesday night, but San Jose has won eight straight road games – after winning 10 straight earlier in the season. The NHL’s best road team (25-8-3) is the first club in NHL history with two road winning streaks that long in the same season.
“We’ve been doing it on the road all season,” said Jonathan Cheechoo, the Sharks’ second-leading goal scorer with 22 after a slow start. “If we can just start doing it at home consistently, we’re going to be a tough matchup for anybody in the playoffs.”