|37-26-12, 86 points||37-27-10, 84 points|
|7th in Western Conference
||10th in Western Conference|
Five For Howling
Make no mistake, points are the most pressing need for the Sharks right now. It's desperation time for a desperate hockey team, and while that cliche has already begun to grow stale, it's a valid representation of the fight that lies ahead.
Tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes brings that desperation into clear focus as a win would (presumably) vault them into a playoff spot depending upon a myriad of factors. With Dallas hosting Calgary, Los Angeles facing Boston, and Colorado at home against Vancouver, there's no telling where things may end up at the end of the night-- it's like a major motion picture featuring Will Smith and Jackie Chan right now in the wild Western Conference. The one thing you can control is your own results, and the one thing San Jose will bank on is the fact that they can do some damage to a team currently ahead of them of the standings by two points.
Ending the game in regulation, or at the very least ending the game before the shootout, is a large part of that aspect of controlling your own destiny.
Last season the NHL instituted the "ROW" statistic to determine tiebreakers at the end of the year. It counts only regulation and overtime wins, serving as the primary tiebreaker between two teams who are equal in points at the end of the season. It was a decision made to mitigate the effects of the skills competition known as the shootout, which does little to tell us the strength of a team in playoff situations or frankly their ability to play the game of hockey. With results in the shootout coming down to just about a coin flip, this ROW tiebreaker is effective in that allows the League to establish some sort of even playing field in lieu of the three point game. We're very much on board with this idea here at Fear The Fin and think it is a positive way to break deadlocks at the end of the year.
Unfortunately for San Jose, this is an area where they are currently last amongst Western Conference contenders. It may only be one win right now, but as we've learned lately, it only takes a mere inch to separate a sheep from the playoff flock this time of year.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan mentioned the importance of ROW after San Jose's game against Calgary. No, not the game two weeks ago-- try two months ago, on January 17th, when a botched goalie interference call on Tommy Wingels negated Justin Braun's overtime winner and sent the game to the shootout (where San Jose eventually won).
You know what it comes down to, right now regulation and overtime wins mean a lot more than shootout wins and we don't have one in the bank.
>> Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan, January 17th
The man is a prophet. Which makes sense considering he's one of the most successful Head Coaches of all-time in points %, but even considering that fact, you have to be impressed by how he nailed that idea two months before anyone was even thinking about it.
Heading into today's action the Western Conference is an absolute Clutterbuck of teams fighting for a playoff spot, six squads aiming for three spots and separated by three points top to bottom. Games in hand obviously play some sort of factor here, but at the end of the day this race is going to be a heart attack inducing finish that will come down to the final week of the season. There's no room to waver, wobble, or waste an opportunity.
I think it's fair to say that a playoff spot or divisional title will come to ROW-- either a team will make the postseason based off of it, or teams will head to the second tiebreaker of points earned in games played between them to determine their fate. That's the path this playoff race monster seems intent on taking us towards.
In a perfect world, that means avoiding the shootout for San Jose.
Here is how those six teams fighting for a playoff spot stack up right now:
Western Conference Playoff Race
|Team||Games ||Points||ROW||Goal Dif.
San Jose will play 7 out of their next 8 games against one of these opponents, with tonight's game against Phoenix playing great importance. Analysis done by FTF staff writer SnarkSD shows that the Sharks would have a 69.4% of making the playoffs with a regulation win, while a regulation loss would put them at a 37.6% chance of making the playoffs.
And ROW, while clearly less important than two points, is going to play a role in how this all plays out.
Shane Doan will be out tonight for the Coyotes, and while it hasn't been confirmed, I assume Mike Smith will be in net. As we covered last week he has been excellent this season-- expect another low scoring game with both teams tightening up their gap control and giving very little up defensively.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Marleau, Pavelski, and Wingels.