In less than a month, the entire National Hockey League gets approximately three weeks off for the 2012 Winter Olympics, but before then, the San Jose Sharks need to re-discover their power-play production in the 13 games prior to Sochi.
Last night, the Sharks suffered only their second regulation loss at home this season, a 1-0 snooze fest at the hands of the Boston Bruins. One of the reasons San Jose was shut out? They couldn't capitalize on their shot advantage over the visitors, and they were obviously unable to score on the power play.
Yes, they only had one opportunity, and in a game like that one, maybe that's all you need. But either way, the Sharks currently are 12th in the NHL in power-play percentage -- and that's not good enough when you're trying to get to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in team history.
San Jose's power-play success rate sits at 19.1 percent, and generally, a great power play should be above the 20% threshold. Currently, only seven teams in the league are converting at that level: Washington (25.5%), Pittsburgh (25.2), St. Louis (24.5), Chicago (24.3), Toronto (21.7), the New York Rangers (21.3) and Nashville (20.0).
Clearly, there's even a higher demarcation line for elite power-play units, as those top four teams are functioning at a very high level. But that's what the Sharks need to do if they want to finally win a Stanley Cup.
Combined, the Capitals, the Penguins, the Blues and the Blackhawks are 115-44-23 this season.
So while San Jose is doing fine with its 28-12-6 record, currently second in the Pacific Division, they could be doing a lot better with an elite power play.
And they have the personnel to do it: Joe Thornton, of course, is one of the league's best at setting up scores, as he currently leads the NHL with 45 assists. And while goal-scorers Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl are out right now with injuries, the Sharks still have guys like Joe Pavelski (ninth in the league in goals with 21) and Patrick Marleau (13th in the NHL with 20 goals) on their roster.
They really should be scoring better than this on the power play, and San Jose will need to focus on this over the next 13 games before Sochi -- as well as for the final 23 games of the season after the Winter Olympics are complete.
The Sharks, if the season ended today, would be in the postseason, of course, but they'd face the undesired first-round opponent they don't want to face (Los Angeles), and if San Jose emerged victorious there, they'd have to face Anaheim without home-ice advantage -- and the Ducks currently have an 18-0-2 record at their facility this season.
Having home-ice might have gotten the Sharks past Los Angeles last season in the playoffs if they'd had it, and San Jose doesn't want to make anything harder than it needs to be if the Stanley Cup is to finally come to Silicon Valley this summer.