In case the San Jose Sharks didn’t realize it, Saturday’s game at home against the Detroit Red Wings is sure to go down as the most pivotal moment of their season.
For all the Sharks have accomplished this season – holding down first overall for an extended stretch, the first 22 home games without a regulation time loss and a fast, exciting, offensive product under rookie coach Todd McLellan – who would have imagined that a mid-January game could be so defining.
It is for a couple of important reasons.
Unstoppable at home other than a couple of extra-time setbacks, the Sharks experienced true defeat for the first time Jan. 15, 3-2 to the Calgary Flames. The game was well played by both teams and losing to a red-hot Calgary squad is no crime. But the Sharks looked flustered in their own end at times and the league’s second best team in limiting shots against gave up 31.
The knock on the Sharks the past few seasons is they’ve been unable to win the important games – or more aptly put, the important series. They haven’t had the gumption to pick themselves up after a key loss and come out stronger the next game.
So that’s why the very next game after their first loss at home will be a telling litmus test for the multi-talented Sharks. They should be mad and focused and eager to start another home winning streak. Therein lies the second important reason why Saturday’s game is so revealing.
The first game back after the loss is against the defending Stanley Cup champions. If these two factors don’t make the Sharks ultra-hungry on Saturday, then maybe they haven’t quite graduated from pretenders to contenders. Maybe they haven’t cleared that mental hurdle.
It’s funny how the Red Wings started the season as the odds-on favorites to win the Cup again. The Sharks got out of the gate quickly, kept it going with aplomb and all of a sudden they’re the team to beat in the eyes of many hockey followers. Detroit, meanwhile, has been relentlessly solid in their chase of the Sharks to the top of the Western Conference standings.
A Detroit win in San Jose Saturday and the Red Wings will have caught the Sharks in far more ways than one. A San Jose victory, on the other hand, will be the most significant building block in the history of that franchise.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.