|41-29-10, 92 points||40-27-13, 93 points|
|8th in Western Conference||3rd in Western Conference|
Tonight is going to be a doozy.
Sure the Sharks can clinch a playoff spot with a Dallas and Colorado regulation loss, two points in their next two games, or any number of scenarios that we laid out yesterday. They're looking good for a playoff spot right now, and that comes directly because they came up huge against the Dallas Stars in two consecutive games. San Jose had struggled down the stretch in games they needed to win, but those two victories against Dallas flipped the script in a big way.
But just when you thought things might get a little less hectic here comes the Los Angeles Kings. A team that, much like San Jose, is better than their record. A team that, much like San Jose, has high hopes of going deep this season. And a team that, much like San Jose, is still in the running for the Pacific Division title and the first round home-ice advantage that comes along with it.
So yeah, things really aren't any easier. They've just gotten a little more clearer in the midst of what has been an insane playoff run.
The Sharks have gone 2-2-0 against the Kings this season, with one of those wins taking 65 minutes and a skills competition to decide. The last time they met things weren't very good for San Jose-- in one of their most disheartening performances of the season, they were buried in the scoring chance count (9-16 at evens, 11-23 overall) and struggled to get any consistent opportunities throughout the entire game. Some of that has to do with the fact that San Jose was on the tail end of a back to back, but I think the biggest factor in that has to do with the fact that the Kings are a damn good team at even strength.
As we've mentioned throughout the second half of this season, San Jose has continued to do the things that make hockey teams successful. A month ago on March 6th we looked at their possession numbers during two slices of the season-- from October 8 to January 14 where they went 25-11-5, and from January 15 to March 6 where they went 8-13-2-- and came to the conclusion that, well wouldn't you know it, the Sharks were actually controlling possession at nearly the exact same rates. The only difference was a depressed (and depressing) shooting and save percentage:
To put it in simplest terms possible, the San Jose Sharks are performing at roughly the same level as they were at the beginning of the season when it comes to possession. They are outshooting, putting more pressure, and spending more time in the offensive zone than their opposition. These are good things to see compared to a situation where they fall off the map by these metrics, and indicate that this team still knows how to play a game they've worked oh so hard to convince us they forgot.
The thing is, Los Angeles is in almost the exact same boat. On March 3rd the Kings were dead last in overall shooting percentage, shooting a woeful 6.9% from the field. This clashed with both League averages as well as their historical numbers:
11-12 League Average: 8.9% Los Angeles: 6.9%
10-11 League Average: 8.9% Los Angeles: 8.8%
09-10 League Average: 9.1% Los Angeles: 9.6%
08-09 League Average: 9.4% Los Angeles: 9.2%
>> LA Kings shooting percentage on March 3, 2012
As we've seen throughout the course of NHL history, shooting percentage (either very high or very low) is generally an unsustainable feat. It shows us little other than which teams are getting the breaks and which teams are not getting the breaks. To put it more succinctly, as the great Todd McLellan once said, "shooting percentage is a shitty stat."
So again we go back to the possession metrics, or things that tell us how good a team is at controlling the play throughout the course of a game. These things aren't perfect at predicting who ends up where at the end of the season (just look at the Kings and Sharks records), but what they do is tell the story of how teams are performing in aspects of the game that will lead to long-term success if they are sustained.
San Jose Sharks & Los Angeles Kings by the Numbers (80 GP)
Pretty cool. Both teams control the flow of play at even strength when the game is tied or close, finding themselves amongst the League's elite teams at doing so. And both have been absolutely snakebit in the shooting percentage department, finishing 1-2 (excuse me, 29-30) in the NHL. That right there is both their seasons in a nutshell-- good teams who haven't received the bounces offensively. The only real difference between them is the fact that Jonathan Quick has been all-world throughout while Antti Niemi has ridden the carousel from liability to savior and all the way around again.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this-- both the Kings and the Sharks are two damn good teams and it's almost hilarious that one of them could end up missing the postseason.
Two points tonight and the Sharks make sure they avoid that fate.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2 in OT as both teams clinch. Goals by Pavelski, Galiardi, and Couture. Phoenix reels off two regulation wins in a row and takes the Pacific Division title however, leaving San Jose and Los Angeles to play Vancouver and St. Louis in the first round. Both wonder why they couldn't have just shot League average this season so they could have played...Detroit and Chicago in the first round? Man, the Western Conference sure is deep.