On Tuesday night the Sharks wrap up a four-game road swing that ranks amongst San Jose's toughest of the season. With two points to show for the first three games and another tough opponent in Chicago coming up next, it's understandable to feel less than spectacular of team teal right now.
Let me offer some optimism. For starters, let's look at what's happened the past few games. First, San Jose went toe-to-toe with what is (in my opinion) a superior Anaheim team. Sure they didn't get the victory, but the Sharks outshot the Ducks and were better in the ole Fenwick department (score adjusted, of course). Yeah, that's a moral victory in terms of the result, but it bodes well going forward since San Jose is almost certain to face Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs.
So that's game one: what about game two? Yeah, that win over the Blues. St. Louis isn't quite at the level of the Sharks in terms of possession, but the Blues are absolutely a playoff team and San Jose played very well. Not only did the Sharks outshoot the Blues, they just looked better throughout most of the game. San Jose is unlikely to face the Blues before the conference finals, but...still, that's a good sign.
And then there's Saturday night's ass-handing at the hands of the Predators. Couple of things: firstly, the Predators are the second best team in the NHL in terms of Even Strength, Score-Adjusted Fenwick-For Percentage, and secondly, San Jose outplayed the Predators in terms of possession all game long. Martin Jones laying an egg is the primary reason for Saturday's loss — and while, yes, he'll be in net in nearly every single postseason game the Sharks play in, there's reason to be optimistic about the way San Jose played.
That brings Tuesday night's game against Chicago, another upper-half possession team. While not as good as St. Louis in this category, the Blackhawks have gotten elite goaltending from Corey Crawford, something I didn't expect to type this season. Or any season. Regardless, San Jose faces another tough, but beatable, team on the road on Tuesday night. Even if the Sharks come up short against Chicago, San Jose has played well during an extraordinarily tough road trip. You can talk about fight and willpower all you want, but I feel the numbers paint a flattering picture of the Sharks.
Helping matters is that things get (mostly) easier from here. Over the remainder of the season, the average even-strength, score-adjusted FF% of San Jose's opponents is a measly 49.26. For the sake of comparison, the Sharks sit at 52.6. Remove Chicago and it's down to 49.19. There's no guarantee of good results against weak teams like Calgary and Vancouver, but the Sharks truly control their own destiny through the rest of the season — and I feel okay about that.
Just don't ask me what I think of the team come the postseason. It's not so pretty.