Sharks kick off four-game road trip in Toronto
Programming note: Sharks-Maple Leafs coverage begins Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – When a team has a multiple-goal lead, such as the Sharks have had so many times during their impressive start and current winning streak, it’s not always easy to keep the proverbial foot on the gas pedal.
The Sharks have won five in a row, sweeping their homestand, and held a lead entering the third period in each game. The only comfortable win, though, came in the first game against Tampa Bay on Nov. 21, when they increased their 3-0 lead after two periods to 5-0 with a pair of early goals in the final frame en route to a 5-1 win.
The Devils, Kings, Blues and Ducks were able to hang around and keep it close, and it took the shootout for the Sharks to gain the extra point over Los Angeles and Anaheim, both of which erased those third period deficits to move the game past regulation.
Perhaps we're nitpicking a bit, as the team that is at the top of the NHL standings with a .788 winning percentage. But it’s still something that the Sharks can improve upon as they begin a four-game road trip in Toronto on Tuesday.
“I think leads are hard to keep in the league. … I really believe that’s because there’s so much parity,” Todd McLellan said on Sunday. “In the past, you used to be able to get a lead and then kind of just cruise along. Teams are so close and so tight, that it’s hard.”
Logan Couture said: “We say it a lot on the bench, ‘keep going after them.’ We have lately had a tendency to sit back, and that’s when bad things happen. It’s something we’re going to have to change.”
A counter argument, of course, is that the Sharks are fortunate to have had so many leads that have required protection. Much of that is due to their strong first periods, in which they are outscoring their opponents an incredible 36-14.
Things even out more after the first break. The Sharks hold a 26-19 advantage in the second period, and 25-22 in the third. They have yet to lose a regulation game in which they’ve led after the first period (11-0-4) or second (15-0-1).
“Games have their flow, ups-and-downs,” Tommy Wingels said. “When you’re up a couple goals maybe you don’t make that extra pass, forcing an offensive play. Maybe you hold on to it and look for a safer play. … You become a bit – I don’t want to say passive – but maybe you’re not as willing to make a riskier play.
“I think if we can get out to leads to start and have this problem, it’s a good problem to have.”
What is most important is that the Sharks managed to get 10 points on their homestand, and all six against the Kings, Blues and Ducks, three top teams that they are in direct competition with for the top spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s three wins against three really good teams,” McLellan said. “They weren’t Picassos, but show me one that anyone wins against one of the top teams in the league, and I don’t think we’ll find it.”
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The Sharks did not practice on Monday, but had a 9 a.m. flight to Toronto. The road trip, including stops in Pittsburgh, Carolina and Minnesota, is the longest road swing remaining on the schedule, as the Sharks won’t play more than three straight games away from SAP Center for the rest of the season.