It is clear, as Comrade Kurz pointed out in his game story from Wednesdays 4-3 loss to Calgary, that the Sharks work with a much thinner margin than either they or their supporters believe. And when they forget how thin the prosciutto is, the trepidation surrounding their upcoming road trip becomes a potential season-spoiler.
Thus, when Todd McLellan fulminated in that gravelly practice-tomorrow-is-so-going-to-suck-for-those-guys baritone that the Flames outworked and outcompeted his team, he was doing what he always does speak not to the game that just ended but the immediate future.And this is the Sharks immediate future:Chicago, Friday at Le Pavillon.At St. Louis.At Washington.At Tampa Bay.At Carolina.At Detroit.At Columbus.At Toronto.At Nashville.At Minnesota.In 17 days. The season, in 17 days. Nine road games, three of them back-to-back. It is a trip that can kill a team Chicago is in the middle on its own nine-gamer, and has lost the first four, and five of six to fall from first to sixth in the West.RELATED: NHL Conference standings
In short, here is where the blade meets the rut, and where we find out not about San Joses character, but about its mental and physical stamina. The playoffs, only with gamier suitcases.San Jose does not normally consider the road a daunting burden. Since the 04-05 lockout, the Sharks have the third best road record in the NHL, 142-90-27. To simplify that number, it averages out to a 98-point season, meaning that the Sharks would be a playoff team if they never came home at all.But this is the first year since 2003 in which they have not been among the top 10 road teams, so the assumption that they will find their zen and camaraderie from 16 days of housekeeping service is not such an automatic.The truith is, the Sharks are entirely dependent upon keeping the other teams goals down. McLellan made a particular point Wednesday night of pointing out that the Sharks have allowed four goals 12 times this year, and have lost 11 of them. An even split would put them in a tie with Detroit atop the league.Then again, an even split is an unrealistic notion, and McLellan knows that. A year ago, they were 1-17 in those games. Three years ago, in their best-ever season of 2009, they were 7-16. You allow four, youre supposed to lose.Which brings us back to the road trip. They will face, in order, the 26th-best scoring team in the league, then the 11th, the 13th, the 16th, the 2nd, the 28th, the 6th, the 9th and the 29th. It will be a cross-section of the resurgent and the doomed, the playoff-bound and the hopelessly out-of-it.And it is a lousy time for the Sharks to separate themselves from the one thing that has brought them here this year a grinding, defensively-tilted game that takes all of the 60 minutes to play, night in and night out.That is taxing business, but the alternative is being well-rested and having most of your April free. They are, after all, six points out of ninth as day dawns, and they dont have that many defensive soft touches left.So they should plan on splitting the road trip as a bare minimum, because there are more nights like the one Calgary handed them Wednesday night, and their inability to recognize and react to the challenge quickly enough kept them from having the four and allowing the three.Thats how thin the margin is. Yes, they are on pace to finish with 103 points, but to maintain that, they have to go the equivalent of 5-3-1 on the road trip. That too seems like a heavy lift.But they know what they must do to manage it. Dont allow the fourth goal, and win more than their share of the one-goal games, where they are currently 22nd in the league.In other words, this isnt going to be easy. It shouldnt be easy. When it is easy, and especially when they think it's easy, it ends badly.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com