It is amazing what a new year can do to a team's self-esteem. After ending 2011 on a two-game losing streak, the San Jose Sharks have turned over a new leaf in 2012 and now ride a four-game win streak into a four-game road trip in the midst of playing 17 of their next 23 games away from HP Pavilion.
Suddenly in 2012, the power play and penalty kill do not seem so bad, under the radar players are stepping up and producing and Antti Niemi and the defense have let up two or fewer goals in all four games in 2012.
With all the ups-and-downs this team has gone through this season, which include the injuries, glaring weaknesses and inconsistent play, the Sharks still hold the top spot in the Pacific division and are just five points out of the top spot in the Western Conference.
However, if one was to make the statement that the Sharks have yet to be tested away from home, not many would disagree with them.
Good wins against the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks away from HP Pavilion are always nice, but having the luxury of playing 23 of 38 games at home to start the season, including 10 of 13 in the month of December, is a little ridiculous.
Low and behold, San Jose gets their first real test of the season on the road against quality opponents for a period of 23 games stretching over a month and a half. Key games include the Chicago Blackhawks, Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Red Wings and Minnesota Wild twice.
Weaknesses will be revealed, changes will be made and this Sharks team will return back to San Jose a whole different team than they left with.
The Sharks had circled this stretch of games on the calendar before the season began, and they go into it riding a four-game win streak playing arguably their best hockey of the 2011-12 NHL season. They knew this was coming eventually.
Fortunately, the veterans are finally producing and the team is meshing wonderfully, coincidentally after key offseason pick-up Martin Havlat's injury sent him to the sidelines for possibly two months. Since then, the team has rallied around that incident and developed a team chemistry despite losing such a key offensive player for this team. They ride that team chemistry into Minnesota on Tuesday.
But we all know what is coming. A long road trip like this will reveal glaring weaknesses in this team that they will have to continuously work on throughout the months following this long stretch of games away from home.
Parts of the game, like the power play and penalty kill will either rise to the occasion or falter under the intense pressure of being on the road.
What we will find out in this next month and a half is how good this team really is.
A road trip this far away from home for this long a period of time will do that to a team, and we will see what kind of a squad coach Todd McLellan really has when they officially return to the Sharks Tank at the end of February.