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Inside the Cage: Turning Point

The success of the Sharks after a heavy slate of games could serve as the turning point of the season

by Ross McKeon @rossmckeon /

There's always a key moment during every season deemed as a team's turning point.

It can be a long winning streak, a period in which adversity was overcome or a player or two simply carried the team on his back for a stretch.

When this 2017-18 regular season concludes, the Sharks may very well look back at the success they enjoyed during a taxing stretch that concluded with Sunday's convincing victory at Anaheim.

San Jose came off its five-day bye recently to face a daunting schedule that included playing six games in nine nights, four on the road with two sets of back-to-backs. The local start times were all over the place, too: 7:30 p.m., then a 1 p.m. holiday start followed by a pair at 6 p.m., then 5 p.m. and - 25 hours later including air and bus travel - 6 p.m. to wind it up.

Four were match-ups against division rivals, another against the hottest team in the West and the one Eastern Conference opponent just happened to be the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Toss on top of that starting goalie Martin Jones got injured late during the compacted schedule, offensive force Joonas Donskoi got ill and the already challenging stretch just got tougher. 

Through it all, the Sharks managed to win five of the six games, and they made a run at earning at least a point in the one they lost, too.

"We've got one of the toughest schedules in the league over the next two months," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "And we're just living day-to-day trying to put our best game out there, put our head down and see where we are when things end in April."

With a 26-14-6 record for 58 points in 46 games, San Jose is on pace for 103 points. That point total could put the Sharks in contention for the Pacific Division title, especially considering they're trying to chase down expansion Vegas and it took 105 points to win the division last year. 

A quick recap of the Sharks' streak of success:

  • Sharks 6, Coyotes 5 (OT): At home on Jan. 13, Joonas Donskoi tied the game with 15.4 seconds left in regulation and Marc-Edouard Vlasic won it at 2:42 of sudden death. Brent Burns chipped in three assists along with six shots on goal as San Jose knocked off the bye-week rust.
  • Sharks 4, Kings 1: Jones continued his domination against his former team with 35 stops while Barclay Goodrow and Mikkel Boedker supplied key depth scoring as the Sharks ventured into a hostile Staples Center on Martin Luther King Day to steal a big two points.
  • Sharks 3, Coyotes 2 (SO): Back at it for the second game of back-to-back road games, San Jose got 38 saves from Dell while captain Joe Pavelski scored the only goal in the shootout. Joe Thornton and Boedker staked the visitors to a 2-0 lead early and the penalty kill remained a perfect 4-for-4 during the first three games of the stretch. 
  • Avalanche 5, Sharks 3: Goals from Vlasic and Thornton in the opening five minutes of the third period rallied the Sharks from a 4-1 deficit within a goal of the white-hot Avs, but Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier then made some incredible saves and ex-Shark Matt Nieto scored late as the hosts won their eighth straight. 
  • Sharks 2, Penguins 1: San Jose rallied after surrendering the first goal with an excellent defensive effort - 3-for-3 on the PK against Pittsburgh's No. 1-ranked power play - to beat a desperate and talented team that had won five of six. Tomas Hertl scored a tie-breaking power-play goal in the third and Dell made 31 saves after learning Jones would be out with a lower-body injury.
  • Sharks 6, Ducks 2: Playing on consecutive nights again against a rested and host opponent, the Sharks weathered a first-period onslaught while Dell kept Anaheim off the board, and roared to a one-sided win thereafter. Boedker scored twice - giving him four in five games - while Kevin Labanc, Melker Karlsson, Thornton and Vlasic filled the net, too. Dell made 33 saves.

"We had a lot of reasons not to show up and play as well as we did tonight," DeBoer said after the win in Anaheim. "Deller was excellent again, that's where it starts for us. We got scoring contributions from the depth of our lineup, and guys who haven't been getting on the board a lot lately."

Video: Boedker scores twice as Sharks down Ducks, 6-2

"It's been a lot of hockey," Sharks forward Logan Couture added. "We're resting when we get the opportunity to. We're a veteran team, and I think we're smart enough to realize you need your rest and days like (Friday) are big when you get what you need from the rink, go home and get ready for back-to-backs."

The good news for the Sharks is the fact they proved they could handle the heavy workload while gaining ground in the standings. The bad news is it's not the last time San Jose will be faced with such a daunting task. 

After this weekend's All-Start break, and back-to-backs at Pittsburgh and Detroit to restart next week, the Sharks jump in the meat of their second-half schedule with 14 games over 26 nights in February and a brutal stretch of 15 games in March.

DeBoer figures he'll opt for rest over practice, which worked well during the team's recent busy stretch, and just trust the veteran make-up of the group to still be prepared to play at a high level even if it means not skating every day.

"I don't think you can do that with a young group," DeBoer said. "I think they lose focus and it takes too long to get them back into it. I think with our guys they have the professionalism to be able to handle those situations, show up and be ready to play."

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