The San Jose Sharks are embroiled in their second and final five-game road trip of the 2013-14 NHL season. This is the longest in mileage because they flew from their Pacific Time Zone homes to Winnipeg (CST) Sunday and Calgary (MST) Tuesday before returning to the coast to take on the Vancouver Canucks Thursday, November 14.
In a bit of punitive scheduling, they then turn around and play in Edmonton (MST) Friday and have the final game a week after the first in Chicago (CST). Conspiracy theorists may suggest this was a response to San Jose general manager Doug Wilson’s criticism of the NHL suspension of Raffi Torres, while others may consider it poetic justice for having the infamous bad-boy on the roster at all.
Either way, the Sharks will be glad it is behind them. They will have played almost a third of their road games on the season and half their games that are more than a time zone away.
They will also unfortunately be done playing a Pacific Division rivalry renewed for the first time since Patrick Marleau was a rookie Shark. The rivalry was rekindled in recent years with the 2011 Western Conference finals loss to the Canucks and the first-round sweep of them in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. It is no wonder that San Jose Mercury News columnist David Pollack noted via Twitter Wednesday that the team practice was chippy.
A regulation loss would leave the Sharks in third place in the Pacific Division and fifth in the Western Conference. That leaves them in a poor position for getting home ice in any round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, important even this early in the season because there are five legitimate contenders for the top seed.
San Jose took the first two games between these rivals, but a lackluster 4-2 loss at home was the fourth of five straight losses. It also broke a streak of nine straight wins over Vancouver, for whom it was the only win on their recently-ended road trip (1-2-1). Neither team is rested, and both could be turning around trends (toward up and down, respectively) or simply have gone through an aberration.
In terms of personnel, the Sharks are deeper even with Brent Burns still expected out according to CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz. On the other hand, home ice will help the Sedin line avoid the toughest defenders and give the team overall a better chance in the circle.
Given how hard it is to see a clear advantage for either team and San Jose’s proclivity for overtime, it is safe to say this one ends after regulation. The winner of this Pacific Division battle will be the one that wins the most of the five pictured, in-game battles.