Sharks Gameday: Anybody Have A Crystal Ball Handy?



5:00 PST
47-20-10, 104 points 37-34-6, 80 points
1st in Western Conference
13th in Western Conference
98.5 KFOX,
Hockey Wilderness
Russo's Rants

After the Sharks lifeless performance against Dallas on Wednesday, the unpleasant feelings from two weeks ago began to crop up-- will the Sharks be able to flip a switch come the postseason? Or is this current inconsistency highlighting underlying issues within this club, intangible levels of "insert your favorite malady here"?

"Heart" always seems to be a crowd pleaser. Same goes for "grit", and the timeless "will to win."

Those questions won't be answered until two weeks from now when San Jose embarks on what seems like the fifteenth opportunity to elbow the monkey off their back and pin it to the floor. What will occur in the postseason remains, and will forever remain, an unknown until the National Anthem echoes amongst the rafters of HP Pavilion on April 14th.

However, maybe past results can guide us in assessing what to look for now, as well as what to expect going forward when attempting to put a potential first round matchup into some historical context.

What follows is a breakdown of how often a team wins their first round matchup, divided into various categories. HOME indicates home ice advantage, PTS indicates superior points during the regular season (3v6 seeds sometimes run into a situation where the 3 seed will win their division but have less points than the 6 seed) H2H indicates who won the season series, 10GMS indicates the team with a better record during the final ten games of the regular season, and 20GMS indicates the team with a better record during the final twenty games of the regular season.

All statistics are post-lockout. As always, shootout results are tossed out of the sample. Furthermore, if both teams are tied in a category (95 points, 2-2 head to head record during the regular season) the results from that series are tossed out as well.

First Round Playoff Series Results (post-lockout)

50.0% (8/16)
43.75% (7/16)
50.0% (5/10)
56.25% (9/16) 68.75% (11/16)
75.0% (12/16)
78.57% (11/14)
76.92% (10/13)
81.25% (13/16)
80.0% (12/15)
62.5% (20/32)
60.0% (18/30) 65.22% (15/23) 68.75% (22/32)
74.19% (23/31)

I'd like to caution against reading too much into the Eastern Conference totals-- it's a vastly different group of teams compared to the West, filled with a couple juggernauts who tend to beat up on the remaining minnows. The West is definitely the deeper of the two Conferences, and has been for years.

Looking at the Western Conference, the only category that really jumps out at me as being interesting is a team's record in the last twenty games of the season. It pays to get hot at the right time and sustain that performance, which makes sense intuitively. It also serves our purposes quite well right now considering the majority of NHL clubs will have played close to twenty games after the Olympic Break-- San Jose comes in at that exact number, coincidentally.

Of course there are the usual caveats. As I mentioned three weeks ago, nothing is set in stone, and this does not signify San Jose's 7-8 record post-Olympics is a roadblock they will be unable to overcome in the first round. We're looking at a mere sixteen playoff series here, and although the numbers are slightly strengthened due to the fact it's a best of seven vs. a single elimination game, there is a fair amount of noise occurring.

However, when looking at the numbers and bringing in some gut feelings, I am concerned. The team has not played well since the break, and although Vlasic's return tonight should help immensely, the blueline unit as a whole has been sorely lacking the entire year. It's the bread that will never be buttered. And that's unfortunate.

At any rate, here's how the current playoff race is shaping up in the bottom five of the Western Conference playoff race. These are the Sharks potential first round opponents:

Western Conference Playoff Race

GR vs. TOP 9
San Jose
4 7-8
5 95 2
Los Angeles
5 94 2
6 89 5
5 87 4

If San Jose loses the division to Phoenix, they could definitely play Detroit. It doesn't take Walter Bishop to figure out the Pacific crown is a huge battle that must be won.

Right after tonight's game, I'm flipping straight to CGY-COL*. What an exciting game that is going to be. Huge playoff implications for both teams, and for San Jose as well provided they hold on to that one seed. The Avalanche have been in a tailspin since coming out of the Olympics, and with a real tough road ahead of them (5/6 of their remaining games come against the Western Conference top nine) there's a distinct possibility the bottom falls out. Calgary's road isn't much easier, especially with one less game remaining. Lose in regulation and you can probably put a fork in them. Win in regulation and it's all up in the air. Brent Sutter has guided a team through the stretch run before-- Joe Sacco not so much. Should be really interesting to see if Sacco can take advantage of the last change and essentially solidify a playoff spot.

*For those who also have Center Ice-- how pumped were you when they changed the standby song back to the pop-rock number they had during the last few seasons? What a track.

I'll have a closer look at all of these teams early next week.


As for the Sharks tonight, Joe Thornton skated yesterday but doesn't look like he will play. Vlasic and Clowe are in [WTC]. Minnesota is pretty whatever, but after the last eleven games of rollercoaster play from San Jose, I'm not really sure what to expect.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Setoguchi (x2) and Mitchell. Vlasic proves once again why he might be as important to the blueline as Dan Boyle. Owen Nolan has his standard performance against San Jose, scoring a goal and tallying an assist.

Go Sharks.