|39-27-10, 88 points||32-33-11, 75 points|
|3rd in Western Conference||11th in Western Conference|
Battle of California
The San Jose Sharks look as if they are beginning to round into playoff form just at the right time, obtaining three victories in a row against Boston, Phoenix, and Colorado. There's plenty of good signs going for the team right now-- Martin Havlat's return has provided a spark to San Jose's top six, the fourth (third?) line of Daniel Winnik, Andrew Desjardins, and Tommy Wingels had an excellent game against Colorado, and secondary scoring is on the rise with the Sharks getting 5 goals in their last 3 games from their bottom forward group.
A week ago the Sharks were barely treading water after losing back to back games against Anaheim and Los Angeles. Now they're first in the Pacific Division and on track to obtain their fifth division title in a row (however precarious that lead may be).
Welcome to the playoff bubble ladies and gentleman. Oxygen tanks and a complimentary case of Xanax can be found on the gift table to your right. Please enjoy your stay.
It only makes sense that this turbulent road will come full circle tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, a team that has handed the Sharks their lunch over the course of the year. The Sharks have amassed a measly 1-4-0 record this season against Anaheim, missing out on 8 standings points that at this stage of the game really could have gone a long way towards putting them into a more secure playoff spot.
Heading into the season it was hard to see the Sharks struggling so mightily against Anaheim-- outside of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne, Lubomir Visnovsky, Cam Fowler, and Jonas Hiller, the Ducks have an astounding lack of depth at key positions. Devante Smith-Pelly looks like he might become a very good player someday, but the fact remains that this Anaheim team isn't one that matches up well against the Sharks on paper.
That's the beauty of hockey though-- you (almost always) get a chance to bounce back. And San Jose has the opportunity to do precisely that tonight.
With Jonas Hiller presumably in net tonight for Anaheim however, that opportunity isn't going to be so easy an easy one to take advantage of.
Although we already covered Hiller's dominance of San Jose earlier in the year I think it bears repeating today. The first reason is because, well, Hiller has been absolutely lights out against the Sharks for his entire career, which includes (but is not limited to!) the 2009 playoffs when Anaheim upset the President Trophy winning Sharks in the first round.
The second is the fact that the Sharks will be facing some excellent goaltending in their last six games. We covered that earlier in the year as well, but again, I think it's something to look out for in these next six games.
But back to Hiller-- here's a data dump of what he has done against San Jose since joining Anaheim in 2007-2008:
Jonas Hiller vs. San Jose (Regular Season + Playoffs)
2.08 GAA, and most importantly, a .940 SV% in 22 games played.
That's just unbelievably dirty.
Although Hiller has dominated the Sharks over his five-year career, and San Jose is 1-4-0 against the Ducks this season, there are still some good signs heading into tonight (although that comes with a pretty big caveat).
What follows is data from all five of San Jose's games against Anaheim this season at even strength:
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks, 2011-2012 (Even Strength Situations)
|Situation||Shots %||Fenwick %||CORSI %||Save % ||Shooting% ||PDO ||Chances For ||Chances Against
[Editor's Note]: Shots % is the percentage of shots for and against, Fenwick % is the percentage of shots directed towards each net minus blocked shots, CORSI % is the percentage of all shots directed towards each net, save % is the percentage of shots San Jose's goaltenders have saved, shooting % is the percentage of shots San Jose has scored on, and PDO is the sum of their save % and shooting % (PDO regresses to 1000 the more data you acquire).
So what we can see here from the "possession" numbers (Shots, Fenwick, CORSI) is that San Jose has largely dominated Anaheim at even strength in controlling the flow of play-- they spend more time in the Ducks zone than they do in their own, which is definitely a positive when you're looking at how games are eventually decided.
However, thanks to the phenomenal scoring chance work of The Neutral this year, an added layer of context shows that those possession numbers may not be so sterling for San Jose. As we can see here, the Sharks and Ducks have been just about even over the course of this season in terms of generating chances against one another.
It isn't a case of one game playing that big of an impact either-- there have really only been two "blowout" games in terms of chances throughout their matchups against one another this season. The first was San Jose's lone win against Anaheim on January 4 (where San Jose outchanced Anaheim 15-9) and the second was their loss last week (where Anaheim outchanced San Jose 10-15). Otherwise you have two games where San Jose outchanced Anaheim by a pair of opportunities (12-10 on October 17th, 17-15 on December 26th) and then one where Anaheim caught a sleepy Sharks team coming off a week of rest (Anaheim outchanced San Jose 14-10).
Furthermore, most of those games were reflective of score effects in the third period. With San Jose trailing, and Anaheim content to sit back in a defensive shell, the Sharks were able to come out and rack up totals that were just as much reflective of their play as they were of the actual game situation.
The moral of the story here is that, for whatever reason, Anaheim has played San Jose very well this season (and much better than the shot, Fenwick, and CORSI totals suggest). This is going to be as tough a game as any down the stretch for the Sharks, even if Anaheim's overall record this season doesn't say much about their ability to win hockey games.
On Monday night San Jose was looking at a 4-3 record to get into the playoffs. They passed the first test with flying colors, defeating the Colorado Avalanche 5-1.
If you're looking at this seven game stretch as a first round playoff series (which it is), that means game two starts tonight.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-1. Goals by Pavelski, Wingels, and Vlasic.