Sharks to begin season with long trips, end with crucial month originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
It's a busy week in the NHL.
Wednesday was the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, and the 2021 NHL Entry Draft will span Friday and Saturday. Stuffed in between those two events, the league unveiled the 2021-22 season schedule on Thursday.
Consequently, the Sharks now know the path they must take in an effort to avoid the first three-year playoff drought in franchise history. Here are a few takeaways from San Jose's schedule for the season ahead.
Long trips early on
The Sharks will open the season at home on Oct. 16 against the Winnipeg Jets. After that, they immediately head out on a season-long-tying five-game road trip. In fact, each of San Jose's first three road trips of the season are five games long. The good news for the Sharks is that they'll all be separated by lengthy homestands.
San Jose returns from that first five-gamer to open a five-game homestand starting on Oct. 28. The Sharks will then head out on another five-game road trip from Nov. 9-18, before returning for a four-game homestand from Nov. 20-26. After that, they'll go on their final five-game road trip of the season, from Nov. 28 through Dec. 5. That will be immediately followed by the Sharks' longest homestand of the season, a seven-gamer that begins Dec. 7 and concludes Dec. 23.
Sharks got lucky
Of the Sharks' seven Pacific Division opponents, they'll play five of them four times each, and the other two just three times each. And by the luck of the draw, San Jose got close to the best result possible.
The two teams the Sharks will play only three times each? That would be the Vancouver Canucks ... and the rival Vegas Golden Knights. The former figures to be in the middle of the pack in the division; the latter is the runaway favorite to win the Pacific and will be on the shortlist of the top Cup contenders.
The Golden Knights went a perfect 8-0 against the Sharks last season. Interestingly, they won't meet for the first time until March 1, when San Jose should have a pretty good understanding of its place in the division hierarchy.
That first matchup with Vegas will mark the Sharks' first road game -- and fourth game overall -- after the league returns to play following a scheduled break in February to accommodate NHL players' potential participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The Sharks will play their final game before the All-Star break on Feb. 1. NHL All-Star Weekend, which will be held in Las Vegas, is slated for Feb. 4-5. San Jose's first game after the Olympic break will take place at SAP Center on Feb. 24 against the New York Islanders.
Crucial final month
The top three teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, as do the next two highest finishers -- regardless of division -- in each conference. In the West, it would come as a major surprise if the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche didn't win the Pacific and Central divisions, respectively.
If that's how it plays out, that means the Sharks will be vying with the next tier (or two) of teams in each of those divisions for the final six playoff spots in the West. And the vast majority of their games in April are against teams that figure to be in that group.
Of the Sharks' 16 games in April, 15 are against Western Conference opponents, eight are against Pacific Division teams, and only two are against the Golden Knights and/or Avalanche (both against Vegas). If the Sharks can keep their playoff hopes alive heading into the final month of the season, they should be able to control their own destiny to a large degree.