(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
The San Jose Sharks had a shootout against Washington, a shutout against Florida, and a wide-open nine-goal game with two hat tricks against Tampa Bay. Just like that, the Sharks have won three in a row after not being able to win more than one in a row for seven games. Perhaps the tide has turned. Perhaps the Sharks have really settled in and are doing what every team says they want to do, must do: take one game at a time.
Those three wins were not against the toughest opponents for the Sharks, even if they hadn’t beaten the Panthers in years and years. The Lightning are doing well in the East but the Sharks had already beaten them once this season. The difference this time was that the team was missing Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Martin Havlat. That inflates the importance of Saturday’s win, and all three wins.
It is a good winning streak, the Sharks have lost to worse opponents, with and without their big guns. Now the team will have to keep their feet on the gas.
Matt Nieto has been a boon to the team. 13 points in 37 games might not seem like that much, but as the Sharks have been looking for more scoring, from anyone, those are life support points. He might not be the solution to the lack of production from the lower six, but he is making the best of his time on the second line now.
Speaking of the bottom six, it seemed unutterably cruel that the fourth line’s goal was waived off on Saturday. Just about any other line could have spared it more readily. Having come so close to a goal there showed that Sheppard, McCarthy and Hayes can keep play in the right end of the ice, but it would be nice to get more points for their trouble.
Will Alex Stalock actually get more starts than any Sharks backup in recent history? I doubt it. He is on track to get just about as many starts as Greiss ever did. Whether he should get more starts, whether Antti Niemi should be forced to rest more before playoffs, it doesn’t appear that Todd McLellan will allocate the workload any differently than he has in previous years. He has said he will give Stalock more starts, but he might just mean more starts than he might have given a first year NHL backup goaltender in a non-Olympic year. It doesn’t mean Stalock will get 20 starts this season.
File that in the same box of mysteries as the Los Angeles-San Jose home ice advantage.
The Sharks are just eleven points behind the Ducks now. That’s a fairly enormous gap, but as Dan Boyle told the Mercury News last Tuesday:
We haven’t had to deal with such a significant gap, but we’ve got to believe we can get it done. You have to aim high, right?
The Sharks don’t have to catch the Ducks, they don’t even have to stay ahead of the Kings to be in the playoffs. Staying ahead of the Kings is probably more important than finishing first in their division. Whether it’s a haunting or a curse or a superstition or just two darn close teams, there is no point in testing that San Jose-Los Angeles home ice advantage. Psychologically, far better to be chasing the Ducks than the Kings.
There is no doubt that home ice would be good against the Ducks too, but even if you aim high, hunt one ghost at a time.