Sharks Gameday: The Final Eight

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7:30 PST
105_medium
43-23-8, 94 points 41-26-6, 88 points
3rd in Western Conference
6th in Western Conference

Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Jewels From The Crown
Battle of California

Here is how the Pacific Division standings look like right now:


Pacific Standings

GP W L OTL PT
San Jose 74 43 23 8 94
Phoenix 75 40 24 11 91
Los Angeles 73 41 26 6 88
Anaheim 73 41 27 5 87
Dallas 73 38 25 10
86

(updated 3.23.2011 at 11:09 PM PDT)


In seventeen days, that alignment may look vastly different.

Here at Fear The Fin we've been looking forward to the final eight games of the season for many reasons-- as Ivan mentioned yesterday, March means the postseason is approaching which is by far the best time to be a hockey fan. There's nothing that even comes close to he intensity of the playoffs (correction: Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream definitely comes close), and with the Western Conference race so tight this season, fans and pundits alike will get a sneak preview of what is to come a little earlier this year.

Furthermore, these final eight games of the season means San Jose is going to be playing contenders all the way down the stretch. All eight of the Sharks final games come against Pacific Division opponents fighting for a playoff spot-- if you thought these inter-Division games were physical enough already, be prepared to witness a whole new spectacle on ice. There's no doubt in my mind that the rest of March and beginning of April will be some of the best hockey you'll see this season. And then, once the playoffs again, that intensity will be magnified tenfold as sixteen teams pursue the Stanley Cup.

Since we have some time on our hands today (when don't we have time on our hands? The vast majority of us here are either students who should be studying or part of the workforce who shouldn't be costing their employer thousands of dollars per month in lost productivity), let's take a look at each of the remaining schedules for all five Pacific Division teams.


Pacific Division Down The Stretch

Team
GP Remaining
Home
Away
GR vs PAC
Record vs PAC
AVG OPP PTS
SOS Rank
San Jose
8 4
4
8 of 8
9-3-4
88.88
1st
Phoenix
7 5
2
5 of 7
9-10-0
85.99
3rd
Los Angeles
9 5
4
6 of 9
9-7-2
85.39
4th
Anaheim 9 4
5
5 of 9
11-8-0
86.56
2nd
Dallas 9 2
7 4 of 9
8-8-0 81.82 5th

San Jose looks to have the hardest schedule down the stretch out of the entire Pacific Division-- while Phoenix, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Anaheim all get to play an assorted amount of non-contending teams like the Avalanche and the Blue Jackets on the road to the postseason, the Sharks are afforded no such luxury. Considering the amount of points they've built up however, it should be of little concern.

Dallas seems to have the easiest route to go in terms of opponents strength, but there is a catch-- only two out of their remaining nine games come at home, which means that the bulk of their race comes down to winning road games. That's a difficult task to ask of any team, especially at the end of the season when fatigue is becoming a factor. I still think they squeak into the top eight by season's end however.

Anaheim might be in a bind-- although they're sitting pretty when it comes to the shootout win tiebreaker, they've been badly outshot all season long and have the second toughest schedule in the Pacific Division behind San Jose. Jonas Hiller has returned from his vertigo, which is a plus considering he's one of the best goaltenders in the game, but it's going to take a little more magic between the pipes for them to find a way to crack the postseason.

*****

Los Angeles lost Justin Williams to a shoulder injury earlier this week and he is expected to be out for the season. That's a huge blow for a team that was expected to be a serious contender in the Western Conference this year. I still like their goaltending tandem, and their blueline speaks for itself (did someone say Willie Mitchell?), but the Kings have struggled with scoring goals this year-- Williams loss obviously doesn't help in this regard. The acquisition of Dustin Penner at the Trade Deadline will help the Kings weather the storm for the time being. Whether or not that will result in some sustained results until June remains to be seen.

As for San Jose, Antero Niittymaki has to get the start tonight. He just has to.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-1. Goals by White, Clowe, and Heatley.

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