Sometime in the next two weeks, the San Jose Sharks will clinch their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yesterday's loss to Dallas coupled with Arizona's victory over Philadelphia assures that they'll have to wait until at least Monday before it's official.
But as much as we hope San Jose clinches sooner rather than later, the results of the next seven games will have no impact on the series of seven set to follow against either Anaheim or Los Angeles. And despite the loss in the standings, there’s reason to be optimistic about yesterday’s performance against the NHL’s top scoring team.
The Sharks limited the Stars (second-best in the league at generating shots on goal with 32.2 per game) to just 17 shots without the help of their top defensive defenseman in Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And while the 36–17 edge on the shot clock was certainly influenced by the score and by six power play opportunities, they dominated the Stars in all situations both before and after Dallas jumped out to its commanding lead.
After the third Dallas goal, the Sharks out-Corsi'd the Stars 41–7 (and their 39–26 edge before that wasn't too shabby either). Overall shots at even strength were 22–10 Sharks, and they attempted 80 shots to the Stars’ 33 (59–24 at even strength). Did I mention they're still without Vlasic?
Leading the way was Brent Burns with maybe the greatest individual puck possession performance in Sharks history. In 28:01 of ice time, Burns fired 10 shots at Antti Niemi, attempted five more and was on the ice for 55 shot attempts for and only 11 against—good for an otherworldly +44 Corsi rating.
At even strength Burns and his teammates attempted 37 shots and allowed only 4 attempts in 17 minutes. His +33 5-on-5 Corsi was by far his best since Corsi started being kept as a stat in 2005 (and likely the best of his career), topping a +25 showing in 2011. Even possession god Joe Thornton has never finished +33 in that time—his best was a +29 against Montreal in 2009.
Defensive partner Paul Martin (+25/+26 5-on-5) and the top line of Thornton (+35/+24), Joe Pavelski (+36/+22) and Tomas Hertl (+19/+17) all posted ridiculous possession numbers along with Burns, utterly demolishing the Stars' top line. In fact, the only Sharks with negative possession numbers were the fourth line trio of Micheal Haley, Tommy Wingels and Nick Spaling and the temporary defensive pairing of Dylan DeMelo and Justin Braun, who started more than two thirds of their shifts in their own end.
With their playoff berth all but locked up and Vlasic, Joonas Donskoi and Matt Nieto all set to return before the end of the regular season, the Sharks can afford not to worry about games like yesterday's. The victories that matter now are getting—and keeping—everyone healthy and making sure Martin Jones and James Reimer are ready for what's sure to be a thriller of a first round matchup with the Ducks or Kings. Get your barf bags ready.