Sharks entering critical season

Updated: January 23, 2013, 10:21 AM ET
By Craig Custance

In their first game of the season, the San Jose Sharks beat the Calgary Flames convincingly, 4-1. They play the Oilers on Tuesday night, then the Coyotes and Avalanche to finish the week. It's the perfect start to the schedule to evaluate whether this team has grown at all from last season.

See, the Sharks had no problem beating teams perceived to be among the best in the NHL in 2011-12. Match them up against the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins, Red Wings, Kings and Canucks, and they competed. They won. Their record against those teams last season was 14-5-2.

The Oilers were one of the worst teams in the league, but the Sharks managed to beat them only twice in four tries last season. The Flames were completely average but still split with a San Jose team that was expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup. The disciplined Coyotes dominated San Jose, going 4-2 against the Sharks. Even when the Ducks couldn't seem to beat anyone else, they owned the Sharks.

Had San Jose drawn Los Angeles, Detroit or Vancouver in the postseason, maybe last season would have ended up differently. Maybe not. Regardless, it was a disappointing season for a team that was coming off consecutive trips to the conference finals.