|36-26-10, 82 points||35-25-12, 82 points|
|10th in Western Conference
||9th in Western Conference|
CSN-CA, NBC Sports Net
With 72 games under their belt and the games in hand safety blanket no longer providing any warmth, the San Jose Sharks embark on a ten game stretch that will determine the Pacific Division title, a playoff appearance, and your mental well-being for years to come.
Beginning tonight San Jose will play 7 out of their next 10 games against the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, and Dallas Stars. Two weeks ago we mentioned that San Jose's season will be coming down to these games, and following last night's porous effort against Anaheim, that statement could not ring any more true:
What's important to realize though, and this is pretty definitive, is that path all comes down to how they play against the rest of the Pacific Division playoff contenders. They'll play the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and Phoenix Coyotes three times apiece over the remainingg games, setting the stage for what will be the most decisive battles in this long-drawn out war.
Those games are essential for San Jose to not just play well in, but win outright. It is in that area where they control their own destiny, because in one fell swoop they're able to not just acquire two points but keep their opposition from doing the same.
So yeah. This is kind of a big one.
The most intriguing aspect of this playoff push, outside of it being the first real balls to wall moment San Jose has had in the regular season for years now, is the fact that opposing goaltenders are flat out nasty. San Jose's schedule will pit them against the likes of Tim Thomas, Semyon Varlamov, and Jonas Hiller when they don't play Pacific Division contenders-- not exactly a walk in the park, especially with Varlamov coming on as of late. And when they do match up against a Division contender like they will tonight, they will stare down the barrel of three men who have been among the class of the NHL at their position.
Jonathan Quick, Mike Smith, and Kari Lehtonen are all in the top 10 in SV% across the League this year, posting sterling numbers that will be a formidable challenge for the Sharks to overcome.
Pacific Division Contenders Goaltending
As we've seen over the years, excellent goaltending has a way of dictating which team walks out of the building with two points at the end of the night, and San Jose will certainly be hard pressed to put the puck in the back of the net in a lot of these nights.
Along with Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick, the Sharks will have their hands full against a Los Angeles team that looks like the real deal as of late. The addition of Jeff Carter has strengthened their offensive game, but perhaps an even bigger part of their offensive resurgence has been what was a ridiculously low shooting percentage. Two weeks ago LA was dead last in the NHL by a country mile, shooting 6.9% from the field, indicating that their anemic offensive attack wasn't as poor as the numbers indicated.
As we've covered with a religious zeal lately, underlying numbers in a short stretch can fluctuate wildly and are no guarantee of future success. However, as Los Angeles' recent stretch indicates, the juxtaposition between their current play and their season as a whole shows that their offensive ability may have been underestimated coming into March.
With players like Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown in the fold you had to figure things would eventually break for them offensively; Los Angeles has only scored less than three goals once in the month of March, doing so on March 8th in a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The floodgates? Yeah, they're kind of wide open.
Some line about a must-win game on the road in the second half of a back to back goes here. You all know the drill. No time for dropping further behind in the points department, no time to fumble a pivotal divisional matchup that could look like a mountain on April 5th.
More so than any other game this week (including Saturday's tilt against Phoenix), this is one San Jose has to have.
Playoff atmosphere in LA tonight.
Guess that means even a 4-0 lead early in the second won't be safe.
Prediction: Sharks win 2-1. Goals by Pavelski and Burns.