San Jose Sharks coach Bob Boughner feels his team has had the most difficult schedule in the NHL so far this season.
Who’s to argue? The Sharks have played 14 of their 16 games away from San Jose and have only spent a combined 12 days at home since players began to arrive in Scottsdale for training camp in late December. Six teams in the West Division have a points percentage of .500 or better.
But things really get serious now, as the Sharks (7-7-2) start an eight-game homestand Monday against the Minnesota Wild, a team they’ll likely need to beat out if they want to finish in the top four in the division and make the playoffs.
That’s followed by three games with the second place Vegas Golden Knights, two with the third place Colorado Avalanche and one with the first place St. Louis Blues.
Talk about a gauntlet. The next 15 days between Monday and March 8 could either put the Sharks in an enviable spot going into the second half of the season with a lot of home games remaining, or put them in a hole they can’t escape.
“We’ve found a way to keep in this thing and keep our heads above water,” Boughner said. “We’ve done a really good job considering all that we’ve been through, and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Here are eight questions for the Sharks as they begin another critical part of their schedule.
HOW WILL ERIK KARLSSON BE USED?: It’s still unknown as to when Erik Karlsson will be able to return to the Sharks lineup. As of Thursday, he was still considered day-to-day with a groin injury.
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Karlsson, according to Boughner, will likely skate again Monday morning to test out the injury and see how much it has improved over the last few days. But it stands to reason that whenever Karlsson is healthy enough to play again, Boughner will need to watch his minutes to some degree to help avoid a setback. Does that mean less time on the penalty kill, which Karlsson is dead-set against, or less time at even strength? Stay tuned.
HOW OFTEN WILL EACH GOALIE BE USED?: The Sharks only have games on back-to-back nights on one occasion during the homestand when they play Vegas on March 5 and 6. So there’s a chance Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk will see a roughly equal amount of time in net.
But Boughner could be at the point where he wants one goalie to really start to take the reins, and that could be Jones, who is 3-2-1 this month with an .889 save percentage. One caveat: Dubnyk is 4-0-1 in five career starts against Vegas with a .946 save percentage.
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment