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What the Sharks need to do to repeat as Western Conference Champions

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A look at the Sharks as they exit the All-Star break

St Louis Blues v San Jose Sharks - Game Six Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The All Star Break is behind us and the stretch for the Stanley Cup Playoffs began last night as the Sharks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1. The Standings in the Pacific go as follows:

1. San Jose (66 points)

2. Anaheim (65 points

3. Edmonton (64 points)

4. Los Angeles (54 points)

5. Calgary (53 points)

6. Vancouver (52 points)

7. Arizona (38 points).

The top three teams from the Pacific, along with the top three from the Central, will earn playoff spots and the rest of the teams will compete for the two wild card spots. With the standings at this point, it looks like the Sharks, Oilers, and Ducks will represent the Pacific.

The Central gets a little more interesting. Minnesota (71 points) and Chicago (65 points) look well on their way to the playoffs, either one of them will win the division. Nashville currently holds the three spot with 56 points, then St. Louis with 53 points, Dallas and Winnipeg with 52 points, and down, but not technically out is Colorado with 28 points.

So, with the situation at hand, what do the Sharks need to do the remainder of the season in order to make a deep run and return to the Stanley Cup Final? To start things off, San Jose needs to get the power play going. Aside from Marleau scoring his 499th goal on the power play, right now they rank 22nd in the league on the man advantage.

The Sharks went 1 for 3 in last night’s game. Over the course of the season they look scared to shoot the puck and when they do, there are no quality chances and no one is in front of the goaltender. Sharks need to make the goaltenders work, they rank 28th in the league with shots per game at 27.1.

Where has the dominant power play gone that the Sharks had for years? Second, the Sharks cannot depend on Martin Jones to bail them out every game. Along with Cam Talbot and Peter Budaj, Martin Jones is one of the busiest goaltenders in the league. Jones started 65 games last year and he looks well on the way to past that this season. If the offense can generate what they did on all lines like they did in the playoffs last year, the Sharks will be in good shape.

Third, the biggest discussion coming up in the NHL is the February 28th trade deadline. Many of speculated that the Sharks will trade for a backup goaltender, others have said another forward, better defenseman, etc. The Sharks defense looks great right now. Burns is having an MVP caliber year, Vlasic, Martin and Braun are not getting on the scoreboard, but no one expects them to. They are supposed to be stopping shots, limiting scoring chances, breaking up odd man rushes, etc., which they are all doing.

David Schlemko, with his lingering injuries, seems to be fitting in quite nicely with the Sharks. From what I’ve seen with Brenden Dillon, he has his moments when he makes a stupid penalty and makes a bad turnover that leads to a goal. Lucky for Dillon, everyone makes mistakes and you’re going to have hiccups in a season. When the Sharks defensive core is on, they are one of the best in the league.

The backup goaltending is a curious one to me, why are people saying the Sharks need to find a veteran backup for Jones? Aaron Dell is 6-2-0 this year, a 1.97 GAA, a save percentage of .930, and has one shutout. So why all the talk when Dell is doing just fine? The talk is Jones will get more rest and the Sharks need a more “experienced” goaltender, but that is not the Sharks main priority. The scoring, the offense, that’s priority number one.

Free Agent signing Mikkel Boedker has not been up to snuff this season, along with Donskoi and Ward. Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have earned roster spots to fit with the potential young core. The question is, do the Sharks need another elite forward, with Marleau and Thornton becoming free agents at the end of the season, or another veteran presence in the lineup.

Shane Doan has been rumored to be a potential target, along with the forwards from Colorado in Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. The Sharks can unload some prospects for an immediate help to one of the lines, but I don’t expect that to happen. I would not be surprised if the Sharks were to stay silent towards the deadline with how much depth they have.

With the Sharks’ win against the Blackhawks, they have a relatively easy schedule until they play the Wild on March 5th. The Sharks need to take advantage of this so they can separate themselves from Edmonton and Anaheim and gain ground on Chicago and Minnesota for the top spot in the west.

The Sharks finished with 44 goals in the month of January, that was Top 5 in the league. They need to maintain that into February. Even if they don’t win the division, they look well on their way to the playoffs, and as history will show you, anything can happen in the playoffs.

The Sharks were a 6th seed in the playoffs last year and went on to the Stanley Cup Final. It is too early to call, but once the deadline and February passes, we can see what potential the Sharks have going down the home stretch.