Even after completing a three-game sweep through the Eastern Conference on their road trip, the San Jose Sharks are glad to be home. The Calgary Flames make their second visit to the SAP Center Monday, January 20.
The pictured predictions assume both teams come to play. That has not always been a given for these teams so far in the 2013-14 NHL season.
The Sharks handily won the first meeting in October 6-3 and also captured a 3-2 road win in November. The Flames are the second-worst team in the Western Conference because of the superior personnel outlined in the first game preview.
San Jose is playing its most consistent hockey of the 2013-14 NHL season, with 13 wins in the last 19 games. That includes a 6-5-0 record on the road, giving the team seven more road games than home so far.
In light of that, it seems good that the Sharks are in second place in the Pacific Division. No NHL team has played as small a percentage of their schedule on their home ice.
However, the 2013 Pacific Division champion is right behind them. The Anaheim Ducks have played one more game both at home and on the road, and have a lead of 11 points. That gave San Jose the urgency to not end the trip like they had the others in the 2013-14 NHL season.
The first six times the Sharks had a road trip of even two games, they lost the last game. Joe Pavelski and Todd McLellan both talked about how they were not willing to accept it again when they fell down 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday.
Too often they have let up when the score was lopsided, especially on the road. They did not even need a period to turn things around. That kind of resolve and leadership can keep this team hot even through the myriad of injuries: Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Raffi Torres, Scott Hannan and Adam Burish are on injured reserve, while Martin Havlat is also hurt (imagine that).
San Jose now enters a soft part of their schedule, with only two games in the next 14 against the 10 next-best NHL teams. Both those are at home, where eight of the next 10 games will be played.
Now is the time to make a push. The Sharks have the best home record in the NHL over the 13 months of play since the third lockout, and they need to ride that now because time is running out to make up such a sizable gap. They also could benefit from that home success in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Winning the Pacific Division would help ensure home-ice advantage in at least the first two rounds, giving them a good shot at a third. Second place likely means an extra home game only in the first round.
By contrast, Calgary is already 20 points out of a Western Conference wild card berth to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. The only team beneath them in the Pacific Division is the Edmonton Oilers. They play to develop and for pride as competitors, nothing more no matter how much they talk about making a push for the postseason.
Thus, San Jose is at home and playing better, with more talent and urgency. The potential of a let-down is there, but this team did not do that with a 2-0 third-period lead at the similarly over-matched Florida Panthers.
Sharks score early
The San Jose Sharks tend to strike early, and they will carry the momentum from their road trip to a fast start Monday. The Calgary Flames also have several players that were ejected in the last game, putting huge minutes on a small number of players to further fatigue them for this road trip.
Calgary will have heavier legs in the first period, and San Jose scores in the first half of the opening period.
The Calgary Flames had four fights two seconds into their last game because they were playing a John Tortorella team—sometimes they show his tightly-wound, arrogant persona. The heavy minutes that resulted are something this team cannot take again, and that many fights should have relieved most of their pugnacious urges.
Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks are too short-handed to risk injuries in a fight with a team they have the advantage over.
Brent Burns scores a goal
Brent Burns has been very active in recent games, especially in the offensive end. However, he has missed scoring chances, had the puck bounce over his stick and been the victim of great saves. Meanwhile, he has had a couple beautiful passes and been in the goalie's kitchen to keep contributing.
Monday, he closes the deal with a goal for the San Jose Sharks.
Matt Nieto held to assist
Matt Nieto has scored a goal in consecutive games, but that streak will end Monday. Instead, he will only get an assist on a goal by Patrick Marleau. That will give him two goals and six assists in his last 11 games and continue his progress to never being sent down to the AHL again.
Sharks win 3-1
Just like the other two contests between these long-time Western Conference and once-again Pacific Division rivals, the San Jose Sharks come away winners. Their one lapse in play costs them a shutout, but they bounce back to put the game out of reach of the Calgary Flames in the final minutes of the third period.