The quarter pole has been reached in the 2014-15 San Jose Sharks season, and it’s been quite a ride so far. The team has endured a previously unprecedented start to the campaign, gone through some rough times, and has emerged in a relatively positive place. In other words, they have survived it!
With regard to the road-heavy schedule, a lot of people have been asking me, “Has anything like this ever happened before?” Well, the answer is yes and no, if you want to know the truth. For more details, let’s consult the world famous Elias Sports Bureau, also lovingly known to us as the “Patrick Elias Sports Bureau” in most cities, or the “Elias Lindholm Sports Bureau” when we’re in North Carolina.
A few things have happened so far that are unprecedented:
- For the first time in history, a team has played 16 of their first 21 games on the road. Yes, there have been seasons where a team has begun out of town due to construction on a building, such as when the New York Rangers began their year with 9 straight on the road in 2013-14. That deserves much attention, but don’t forget that the Rangers played 12 of their first 21 on the road last season.
- To find another team that came close in recent years, look no further than the Sharks in 2009-10, when they played 9 of their first 12 away from home, and 13 of their first 21. That’s a schedule that is comparable to what the Rangers had to endure last season.
- Last season, the Rangers went 3-6-0 in their first 9 road games, 10-11-0 in their first 21, and 6-6-0 in those first 12 road contests. The Sharks had a better record.
- But the old champions in this one area are the California Golden Seals, the team that played in Oakland for 9 years from 1967-76. In their final year in the Bay Area, the Seals played 14 of their first 21 on the road. To quote Krazy George, “Ooh-ooh!”
- The Sharks put together a 10-9-2 record in those 21 games, including an 8-6-2 record in their road schedule. By comparison, the Seals started their year at 7-12-2, including a 4-9-1 road record in that span.
All in all, Sharks Hockey held up reasonably well in those games, even with the valleys (at Florida, at Columbus, at Buffalo) that went along with the peaks (at Anaheim, at Tampa Bay, at Carolina).
Individually, San Jose got pretty solid goaltending from all three of their netminders. For the first time ever, three separate goaltenders recorded shutouts in their season debuts. Rookie Troy Grosenick, of course, had the most memorable performance, with a 45-save night at Carolina that turned out to be the most saves a Sharks goalie had ever made in a shutout, eclipsing Antti Niemi’s record of 41 last year against the Rangers.
If you go back in history, Evgeni Nabokov, Nolan Schaefer, and Vesa Toskala each recorded shutouts in the 2005-06 season, and in 2002-03, Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Vesa Toskala each recorded a shutout. However, neither instance occurred in the first 20 games of a season.
That state of affairs has only happened on two other occasions in NHL history, according to our friends at the “Patrick Elias Sports Bureau.” In 2007-08, the Coyotes got shutouts from Alex Auld, Mikael Tellqvist, and Ilya Bryzgalov in the first 20 games. In 1998-99, Pittsburgh also accomplished the feat, courtesy of J-S Aubin, Tom Barraasso, and Peter Skudra. That’s all, folks!
On defense, Brent Burns finds himself among the NHL leaders in scoring. Through his first 23 games, Burnzie had 7 goals and 12 assists, and his 71 shots on goal were right at the top of the list of men who patrol the blue line.
Rookie Mirco Mueller may have had the most humorous moment of the trip in the waning seconds of the first period in Carolina. With the last couple of seconds ticking down and Mueller with the puck behind the net, he turned his back to the play and had some eye contact with a group of fans in the first two rows of the building until the horn sounded. No one was anywhere near him, but a good laugh was had in the radio booth over that one.
Up front, Joe Thornton was the Sharks’ best player on the road trip. He recorded a point or more in every game of the swing, and scored 4 goals and 4 assists.
You have to take the good with the bad, of course, and so along with the thrilling comeback in Dallas, the sensational team performance in Tampa, and the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious goaltending of Grosenick in Carolina, we also saw some disappointments in Columbus, Florida, and Buffalo.
Now, the Sharks are in the midst of a lengthy homestand. They’ve had some practice time. They’ve gotten some rest. They ‘re on to the next phase of the season.
We are likely to have many more unique experiences on the schedule this coming season, and the Sharks just have to keep on trucking. It’s all about the journey, so let’s enjoy it!