The Sharks have been NHL road warriors for most of October. Even the New Jersey Devils, who opened the season with nine consecutive road games, have played just one less home game than the Sharks. Now the Sharks play four of the next six at home and, more importantly, the next 11 (Dallas was the 12th) against the Pacific Division.
All games are important, but the next month will be more than noticeable in the standings.
“We want to win the division and we have to beat those teams,” said Christian Ehrhoff.
Team Teal will not play a club outside their division until Colorado on Nov. 30. The extended games against the same division are something most players can’t remember.
On the ice, it is a time for San Jose to possibly put some padding in their early season Pacific Division lead. The Sharks currently lead second place Los Angeles and Dallas by just one point, and fourth place Anaheim trails by three points.
“That’s our goal, to open up a lead,” said Ehrhoff. “These are huge for us.”
“It’s a big part of our schedule,” said Sharks Captain Patrick Marleau
. “We can be up more or down a little bit (after the month). Everybody knows these are big games.”
“You’re battling for the division and conference and you have a good chance to move up in the standings,” said Alexei Semenov.
Home ice advantage in the postseason played an important role in Anaheim winning the Stanley Cup and the Sharks know that home ice for any length of time in the playoffs could provide them the same benefit.
“It’s nice to win the division and get home ice advantage, maybe through the entire playoffs,” said Semenov.
The division won’t be won in November, but the Sharks know a big difference between them and the Ducks in 2006-07 was Anaheim taking the season series, 5-2-1. This month, San Jose has four head-to-head contests with Los Angeles and two with Anaheim, Dallas and Phoenix. Should the Sharks take advantage of the head-to-head battles, they could create the type of separation the Ducks did to win the Pacific Division.
In essence, the contests are four point games with the Sharks potentially taking two in addition to preventing two points for their opponents.
“Basically, it’s like a four-point game,” said Ehrhoff. “We don’t want to look back in March and April and say we should have won more games there. If we win the head-to-head games, we’ll be in good shape in the division.”
Still, the club has to treat each game individually and not get too far ahead of themselves.
“We’ll just take it one day at a time and work hard,” said Kyle McLaren.
True bitter rivalries like those in the Eastern Conference likely won’t take affect until the Sharks finally play a Pacific Division foe in the postseason. Until then, playing as often do (eight out of 82 games) has upped the intensity.
“We play eight times a year and the points are big in the playoff races,” said Ehrhoff. “I think the intensity is there because we played them so much the last few years. Nothing has to build up.”
“It’s important to win these games,” said Marleau. “We have to be 100 percent focused.”
San Jose has three sets of back-to-back contests this month and that will force the Sharks to stay that much more on top of their game.
“It depends on the first or second game,” said Marleau of the consecutive games adding bitterness to each game. “It’s a little like the playoffs. The coaches make adjustments and sometimes things are carried over.”
Semenov sees a bit of potential in California similar to what he experienced in Edmonton.
“It’s like when I played with Edmonton in the Battle of Alberta,” said Semenov. “I think those games get you going. They’re really exciting to play.”
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson.
BACK TO SKATING
Mike Grier skated with his teammates at Thursday’s practice, but it will not be known until tomorrow whether or not he will be ready for tomorrow night's game against Los Angeles.
Even though the Sharks will play their third back-to-back set of the young season, Evgeni Nabokov is expected to continue his consecutive games started streak, which is currently at 12.
“He’s had three days off and we haven’t had many back-to-backs,” said Wilson.
Friday night marks the first game involving a contest with the Sharks and another California club. FSN Bay Area will keep a running point total on the season and award an unofficial champion based on the season-long battle between San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Ducks and Kings have evenly split points in their early matchups.
Sharks rookies Devin Setoguchi and Lukas Kaspar will play in their second consecutive contest Friday night, but their first at HP Pavilion.
“These kids played really well the other night,” said Wilson. “They had quality ice time in an important game.”
The Sharks will face Los Angeles on Friday night in a 7:30 p.m. start at HP Pavilion and limited tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com and the HP Pavilion Ticket Office. The contest will be available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.