During the Sharks' bye week, we discussed the need for improvement between the pipes. Giving up five or six goals a night? That's not a trend that bodes well for a deep playoff run.
Fast-forward through the first two games back from the break, and San Jose has already begun to put a dent in their goals against. If maintained, that will go a long way towards helping the Sharks down the stretch, particularly against their next opponent, the Calgary Flames.
San Jose only surrendered two goals in each of the victories over the Coyotes and Jets. Winnipeg had scored nine against Anaheim in their previous game, so limiting them to two is no small feat. With the two post-break wins, the Sharks improved to 21-0-0 this season when giving up two or fewer goals. If they can make that a frequent occurrence, they'll be in good shape through the next 28 games of the season, and beyond.
The Sharks especially need to shut the door on their next opponent, the Flames, who have scored the second-most goals in the league (197). Calgary hasn't scored fewer than three goals in a game since a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on December 29. They followed that defeat by beating the Sharks 8-5 on New Year's Eve -- more on that in just a second -- and haven't looked back. In the 13 games they've played in 2019, the Flames have gone 10-2-1 and have registered five-or-more goals in five of those contests.
Cooling off the Flames' hot offense won't just be a challenge for the Sharks on a defensive front, but on an emotional one as well. The beatdown the Sharks suffered on the scoreboard in their last meeting was compounded by the hit Calgary's Sam Bennett laid on Radim Simek that resulted in a concussion for the Sharks defenseman, and yet, no disciplinary action for the Flames' forward.
Add that to the fact San Jose is trying to overtake first place in the division and has to leapfrog Calgary to do so, Thursday's game between the two teams should be intense. The Sharks have to avoid the mental mistakes that are so often symptomatic of emotionally-charged games, or they'll likely find the puck in the back of their own net more than a couple times.
The Sharks' best course of action? They can start by not giving up a goal too early in the game. San Jose has given up the second-most goals in the league in the first five minutes of a period (48), doing so twice on Tuesday evening against the Jets.
Calgary is a team that can capitalize on mistakes, which was on full display when they won the New Year's Eve contest. That means both the Sharks' defense and netminder -- presumably Martin Jones, since he has back-to-back wins after the break and Aaron Dell was in net when the Sharks lost on December 31 -- have to be on-point from the drop of the puck.