Confidence is an invaluable currency. It’s the reason the underdog still has a fighting chance, why team’s without pressure to win can pull off Cinderella seasons, and how teams can win the Stanley Cup two (or three) years in a row. At the core of every successful team is an unshakeable, bone-deep belief that their time is now.
A lack of confidence is also what leads forwards to scoring droughts, goaltenders to losing their ‘touch’ and teams to spiral in the standings, à la the Buffalo Sabres.
Building and maintaining confidence is a tricky thing — teams and players have to accrue it individually and collectively, and it’s not always a linear process. But one way teams can build confidence in themselves and their game and create momentum going into the regular season is by winning preseason games.
Sure, the wins don’t count in the standings, but the wins do matter in the locker room.
The San Jose Sharks have had a mixed bag of a preseason, which is totally normal for a team searching for their identity in the midst of a reset, while also testing their rookies and roster. Plus, the ongoing Evander Kane situation doesn’t help the general air of wait-and-see when it comes to the Sharks.
Their first two preseason games were a split double-header on Sept. 26. Against the Anaheim Ducks, the Sharks were flat-footed and lost 3-6. The other half of the roster showed off their new physicality-focused chops against the Vegas Golden Knights, winning 4-2. It was the most successful showing of the Sharks’ physical play thus far.
Sept. 28 was their first home preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings, where the Sharks lost 4-3. Two days later, on Sept. 30, the Sharks flipped the script and won against the Ducks, 3-1. On Oct. 4, the Sharks had a rematch against the Ducks, and lost in the shootout, 3-2.
The difference in scores is normal, preseason fare. A shrinking, changing roster means that every game is a slightly different interaction of what the Sharks might be in the regular season. But what is an indication of the Sharks’ reset is in the little details; their high penalty minutes and hits in games they lose and their fluctuating energy levels mid-game.
I’ve spoken before about their need to solidify their identity ahead of the regular season and the importance of chemistry, and balancing their physicality with something else. But in talking to the players and from what I’ve seen in training camp, the players are self-confident in their performances, have been taking responsibility for the aspects of their game that need work, and are ready to put the work in on and off the ice. But just because the players are personally confident, doesn’t mean the team has perfect chemistry.
The losses that are the most frustrating are the games where they’re within one; games like Oct. 4, where the Sharks should have won that game by all accounts, or Sept. 28. As the Sharks finalize their roster, they should become more consistent. As they become more consistent, they’ll become more confident.
Right now, the next step is to start creating confidence within a team setting. The players are individually confident, so now it’s about solidifying each players’ role on the team, and the identity the players will embody on the ice. If you give them a game plan, there’s no reason the team can’t succeed. They just need to figure out what their game plan is, and their preseason record doesn’t indicate that they’ve identified what that is.
The final preseason game for the Sharks is on Saturday, Oct. 9 at SAP Center. The Sharks will face off against the Vegas Golden Knights at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.