17-10-2, 36 points
15-10-4, 34 points
2nd in Western Conference
7th in Western Conference
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
No disrespect to Dallas, Phoenix and Anaheim, but not many suspected that they would be neck and neck with San Jose and Los Angeles in the Pacific Division race more than a quarter of the way through the 2010-2011 NHL Season.
Well, neck and neck isn't really the right term...
Dallas, surprisingly, has been the class of the division for the entire year, while San Jose and Los Angeles have meandered through the first few months of the season. And while I may not be able to wax poetic about Dallas the same way that Plank can, I'll give them the respect that they deserve for their early season success.
Just like the Sharks' struggles, though, I'm inclined to believe that the Stars won't be leading the Pacific for long. Don't get me wrong, I'm thoroughly impressed with their season thus far and especially their forwards; James Neal is quickly becoming one of the best players in the Western Conference, and Loui Eriksson continues to score in bunches. Brad Richards, who leads the team with 34 points this season, is having a renaissance year.
However, they're winning despite their power play and penalty kill, which rank 22nd and 27th in the league, respectively. Somehow, though, they're finding a way to win... even with league average goals for and goals against numbers.
The Sharks, on the other hand, boast the 7th best power play and the 14th ranked penalty kill. They're getting an average of three goals a game, and have looked better as of late... something that their 4-2 record in December would suggest.
It's not all a numbers game, though, and Dallas deserves any and all accolades for their strong season. The fact remains that Dallas holds a two point edge in the standings over San Jose, no matter who thinks they are deserved of it or not.
That could change tonight, though, as the Sharks can tie Dallas in the points standings with a regulation win (they'd still be behind them in terms of wins, though). It would be cathartic for a Sharks team who lost a heartbreaker against the Stars on November 18th. Leading by two goals with just minutes left, the Stars manhandled San Jose and gave their home town fans a thrilling win in overtime.
We'll hope the Sharks will be able to provide a similar treat for the city of San Jose tonight.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-1. Goals by Couture, Heatley and Marleau.