Brent Burns (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
There is not a team in the NHL that has more points on the road than the San Jose Sharks. And there is not a team in the NHL that has fewer points at home than the San Jose Sharks. Part of that is the function of an unbalanced schedule. But part of it is the Sharks resemble their star defenseman Brent Burns at times – smooth as silk sometimes, a big, hairy mess at others.
The Sharks have never been a franchise that has followed convention. And that’s the case with this team, which improved its road record to 12-5-1 with a scrambly 5-4 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. Compare that to the saps they are at home, with a 4-9-0 mark at the SAP Center at San Jose.
So you try to explain something that defies explanation. How can a team play at a .694 clip at home and .494 in the place that is most familiar to them?
“Maybe the wives talk to us too much,” joked Burns, who scored the overtime winner and had three points on the night. “Sorry. I’ll get yelled at for that. Definitely more sleep with the guys with kids on the road. Maybe I’ll tell my kids to stay out of the room before seven. I don’t know. If you know why, let us know.”
For the Sharks, it definitely has something to do with getting the all-important first goal of the game. They’ve won four games at home and they scored first in each of them and they were scored on first in all nine losses. Of their 12 wins on the road, they’ve scored first in nine of those games. All told, the Sharks have lost just one game this season and won 13 in which they’ve scored first and have a 3-13-1 record when they give up the first goal of the game.
“We’re better playing with the lead,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “One of the factors is we’ve been playing from behind a lot (at home). On the road I think we come out and keep it simple and tonight we found a way, and that’s the bottom line.”
PARITY PARTY Speaking of defying logic, another thing that strikes me when I watch a game such as the one Thursday night is how much parity there is in the NHL today. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but when a team in 29th in the NHL standings can hang with the Sharks for 60 minutes, it demonstrates that there really are no god-awful, terrible teams in the league today. Take the Leafs, for example. Their roster is weak, but they work very hard and are well coached and it takes much more than a token effort to beat them in any given game. They battle back, as they did against San Jose after falling behind 2-0, and they keep coming at their opponents.
Contrast that with the National Basketball Association, where you have one team (the Golden State Warriors) that is 25-1 and one team (the Philadelphia 76ers) that is 1-26. In the National Football League, the Carolina Panthers are 13-0, while there are three teams in the league at 3-10.
BERNIER OR BUST The table was all set for the Jonathan Bernier Redemption Game. The guy comes in down 2-0 when start Garret Sparks gets injured and his team responds with four goals. But in true Bernier fashion, he loses in overtime and his record falls to 0-8-3 on the season.
“I don’t know what I’ve done wrong to someone because I can’t get that one bounce,” Bernier said. “I thought I made the saves I had to make. Obviously you want to stop all of it, but I felt pretty good about my game tonight.”
So did Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who said Bernier will get the start when the Leafs host the Los Angeles Kings Saturday night. Babcock described Sparks’ probably groin injury as “long-term” which means the Leafs don’t have much of a choice at this point, short of starting Antoine Bibeau, who will almost certainly get the call up to the big team on Friday. With an .887 save percentage in the American League, Bibeau isn’t exactly NHL-ready himself.
“That’s the great thing about life - if you just work hard and you prepare it’s amazing how breaks go your way,” Babcock said. “He’s got to do the same now. He’s starting the next game. He’s got to dig in, and he’s got to compete and he’s got to battle and he’s got to find his mojo. He gets an opportunity now that he might not have gotten, so work and keep it.”