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Sharks Gameday: A Fickle February

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7:30 PST
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25-17-9, 59 points 25-19-6, 56 points
6th in Western Conference
8th in Western Conference

Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Five For Howling
Coyotes Hip Check

According to conventional thinking, one of the biggest tests for a hockey team is going on the road. Unfamiliar buildings and unforgiving opposing fans make any trip out of a team's home barn a test of wills, depth, and mental attention. Winning hockey games in the National Hockey League isn't easy-- winning games on the road even less so.

This season San Jose has been slightly better on the road than at home, which isn't saying much-- they've amassed a 13-9-3 record away from the cozy confines of HP Pavilion, good for about 1.16 points/game. Pro-rated to an 82 game NHL season. the Sharks away record would have put them on pace for 95 points. In other words, right on the playoff bubble. In other words, a decidedly average hockey team.

No matter how strong the roster looks on paper, the Sharks have been average this entire season. Outside of the six game losing streak that plagued them during the middle of January, and a pair of four game winning streaks in December and the end of January, San Jose has essentially traded in wins for losses like any upstanding and morally righteous businessman adhering to the standards of quid pro quo. Unfortunately however, it hasn't resulted in any noticeable gains except the promise of an exciting playoff push for a city that has forgotten what those types of must-win games feel like before April.

The Sharks play 10 out of their 13 games on the road this month, a trying time for any team let alone one who has struggled to find their way all year. After tonight's game against the Coyotes the Sharks hit the road for eight straight games. It's a month that has brought with it clouds of gray, ominous skies that threaten to unravel the frayed ends of a rope attached to the promise of playoff possibility. A misstep here and San Jose could find themselves in a compromising position where a low seed (if any) might be the writing on the wall for the organization. There would still be time to recover of course, as a five point difference between the four and eleventh seed will indicate, but that time would be dwindling down to the final hours. Hit a few hot goaltenders in March, or encounter an injury or two, and all of a sudden you're on the outside looking in.

Furthermore, there's no doubt that this month will determine just how Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson approaches the trade deadline. If San Jose putters their way through the road trip and remains mired in the 8-10 spot in the Conference, there's very little chance he'll take the risks associated with rental players and make a play to upgrade the blueline for this year and this year only. Better to cut your losses, acknowledge this year as one that requires something more than just a trade acquisition to put the Sharks over the hump, and roll into March with the roster currently in place. It's either that or try to acquire a player who is young and under contract in the coming years-- as we mentioned on the podcast however, those players are far from readily available.

No matter how this month shapes up for San Jose, tonight's game against Phoenix is a big one in a long line of what is bound to be an endless stream of big ones for the Sharks. As Todd McLellan cautioned after the Sharks defeated the Minnesota Wild on the 22nd, their recent wave of strong play is comparable to the period that led into the Christmas Break. After that break, the Sharks went 2-2 before slamming into a six game losing streak.

Getting off on the right foot to start February is probably more important than it has ever been for the Sharks.

Because now their playoff chances depend on it.

Prediction: Sharks win 1-0. Goal by McGinn. McGinn doesn't actually score, but hopefully typing that phrase means he actually does. I know, it's confusing.