COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Without a victory in their past four games, the Sharks now must regroup on the road -- no surprise to calendar-watchers who know a tennis tournament at HP Pavilion sends the team packing every February.
But this six-game trip is different.
It opens and closes with back-to-back games, then has gaps of at least two days between the others. Instead of traipsing around North America for more than two weeks, the Sharks are coming home midway through.
The team will spend three nights in San Jose after games in Columbus on Monday night, in Nashville on Tuesday and Chicago on Friday. The Sharks then turn around and fly back to St. Louis for a Feb. 19 game, return to Chicago to play Feb. 22 and then wind things up the next night in Dallas.
"We first of all looked at the past," coach Todd McLellan said of the decision to split the trip. "We've always had that long trip. We looked at some of the successes we've had and some of the failure we've had."
Last year was the biggest of the failures, as the team went 2-6-1, and problems with its chartered jet forced a one-day delay in the final flight home.
"We didn't make many changes to the group that we have this year, so we put more value into last year," the coach said. "That was a turning point in our season, I believe, last year. It was 18 days after the plane conked out, and that was too many. We're not going to do that again."
Financial considerations were
Teams in the heartland occasionally divide long trips into segments. Geography and the fact many of their flights cover short distances make that easier.
Neither is the case with the Sharks, but they still wouldn't be able to pull it off this year if it weren't for the oddity of the NHL schedule. People expected strange things in this lockout-shortened 48-game season, and this is one of them.
It's also something the Sharks say they had no control over once they tell the league which days they cannot occupy their own building.
"They don't like to give you back-to-backs, and they don't like to give you a long time sitting around on the road," Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas said. "When you're gone for two weeks, it's a little bit the luck of the draw."
That and building availability.
"They don't have to explain it," said Thomas, who serves as San Jose's liaison to the NHL on schedule issues. "They're trying to make the best schedule for 30 teams, and they have to fill buildings when they're available."
So what do players think of the decision to fly home for three nights?
"It all depends on the player," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "For me, I don't mind flying. I know some guys will answer differently, but I don't mind spending a couple extra hours coming back because I have kids and I'm a homebody. But you may ask a single young guy who'd say I'd rather just go."
Logistics and preferences aside, the 7-2-2 Sharks face the challenge of rediscovering their scoring touch -- especially the power play -- in unfriendly buildings. And that includes two games against the NHL-leading Blackhawks as well as one against a Blues team that ousted San Jose from the playoffs last spring. McLellan does see one advantage this year compared with others, when this trip normally came 50 games into the season.
"We shouldn't be worn out," he said. "That's the good thing about this trip. But we're playing some pretty good hockey clubs, and we'll be pushed and tested."
Another good thing about this trip?
It might not be needed in future Februarys. The SAP Open has announced it won't be returning to HP Pavilion.
Sharks (7-2-2) at Columbus (3-7-2), 4 p.m. CSNCA