On Tuesday morning, the Sharks embarked on the first of three six-game road trips this season. With the six- hour flight to the nation’s capital, the Sharks left Silicon Valley in the morning and were scheduled to arrive in time for dinner.
From a travel perspective, the visits to Washington D.C, the Rangers, the Islanders, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Philadelphia keep San Jose in the same time zone for all six affairs. Since the trips are necessary for all clubs, many are glad to pound out some road games early. After the Nov. 25 contest in Philadelphia, San Jose will have completed more than 20 percent of its road games.
“You’ve got to go on the road,” defenseman Dan Boyle
said. “It will be a little tough being away, but we need to come together as a team and be a little more consistent. We’ve had some good minutes, but not start to finish. I’d like to see us play some complete games.”
While everyone feels things can be easier at home (the home winning percentage is almost always stronger), there are positives to be found on the road as well. Many on the Sharks roster are still just getting to know each other.
“It’s great that this is early in the season. We’re fresh,” newcomer Jed Ortmeyer said. “There will be a lot of team dinners and bonding. Guys will learn a little more about each other through conversations on the plane. That will help us gel and build the camaraderie for later in the year when the dates start to get tough.”
“I think it’s a good thing for our club to be going out there right now,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “It’s one of our longest trips of the year. I’m glad it’s early October instead of late March. It will give us a chance to find our game. There are some players still struggling. We’re going to continue to try and play them through it and hopefully being on the road will help them a little bit.”
It must be remembered that the Sharks final roster was decided less than two weeks ago and people are still learning about each other on-and-off the ice. Almost half the team is different from the group that played together in April.
“You start to become a family the more you know people and you’ll do that much more for them,” Ortmeyer said. “As the season goes on and gets tough, guys get tired and injured. Anytime you’re challenged as a family, you’re going to look out for each other.”
Plus the on-ice challenges can bring a long term benefit.
“You don’t get the matchups you want on the ice, so certain players may get put in positions they may not see at home,” Boyle said. “We need guys to step up their game. We need to play our system and play well.”
As any business traveler knows the time away from one’s own bed does eventually take its toll, but the players have to rise above it.
“Whether you’re single or married, it’s tough to be away from home for that long,” Boyle said. “There are a lot of us with young kids and it’s tough being away from the family, but it’s part of the business we’re in. We just need to win some hockey games and that’s what counts.”
Like any other traveler, players will look up good friends on other teams or maybe have dinner with friends from the old neighborhood. For Ortmeyer, he’ll be returning to New York where he broke in with the Rangers. Boyle will be returning to Tampa where he won a Stanley Cup. Dany Heatley will play in Atlanta where he began his career.
“I still have some friends there and I’ll be excited to go back to the Garden,” Ortmeyer said about playing at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “This will be my first time back since I left. I haven’t even been back to the city since I left. It will be good to see some familiar faces, but it’s business as usual. You focus on playing and worry about the other stuff afterwards.”
Head Coach Todd McLellan is simply worried about getting off on the right foot.
“The first game is pivotal. We won’t worry about the other five (until the first one is played),” McLellan said.
Preparation is a big challenge when visiting the other conference as one game a year doesn’t breed the familiarity of a division opponent.
“Going to the East Coast, we don’t know a lot about their teams,” McLellan said. “The (Washington’s Alexander) Ovechkins, Carters and Richards (Philadelphia’s Jeff and Mike) jump out at you, but we’ve got some homework to do as coaches. We’ll get out there, get acclimated to the time change and play some good games.”
Once the long haul across the country is made, the “trips” get easier.
“We’re going to base out of New York City and can move around from there,” McLellan said about using Manhattan for a base while playing the Rangers and Islanders. “Any time you’re out east, your trips are a lot shorter. It will be good for the players to spend some time together there.”
McLellan said there may be time for field trips during the season, but this first trip is all about hockey.
“It is very much a business trip,” McLellan said. “It’s not a ‘Let’s go to New York and go shopping trip.’ We’re not going on tours or whale watching or anything like that. We’re playing six games in 12 nights. So every other night we’re playing a game. When there’s time for rest, we’ll give the players their time and space. Perhaps later in the year we’ll do a little team building or a father’s trip. Right now, there’s none of that going on.”
The focus is on being physically and mentally ready to bring home a winning road record.
“We’re gone for a long time and we’ll have to take care of ourselves,” McLellan said. “Getting our rest, staying healthy, controlling anything we can control and then trying to put some points on the board. That’s what we’ll do.”
A reminder for fans who won’t have access to Monday’s Rangers game due to the DirecTV conflict with Versus. The game will be available in Stanley’s at Sharks Ice at San Jose, as well as 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.
The Sharks will visit the Capitals on Thursday and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.