The San Jose Sharks are clearly a different team since the return of forwards Raffi Torres and Logan Couture, scoring 22 goals while going 4-0-1 with both of them in the lineup. They are back on the road in the Eastern Conference against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday, March 13.
The hosts were the final team San Jose beat without its forwards. Yet there are five pictured reasons Columbus will come out on top that seem to fly in the face of what on paper looks like a Stanley Cup contender against a mediocre team.
The Sharks are among the elite five teams in the superior Western Conference. They are a game behind the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead with 91 points, are 18-6-3 vs. the Eastern Conference and 17-13-3 on the road during the 2013-14 NHL season.
Despite that superior competition, San Jose holds the edge in faceoffs (2.8 percent better), takeaways (2.4 more each game), blocked shots (2.4 more per game), shots on goal (plus-6.3), shots allowed (3.3 fewer per game), penalty minutes (1.7 fewer) and penalty kill (2.1 percent better). That has resulted in better numbers where it matters most—one more goal per nine games and two fewer allowed per five.
Columbus has the checking edge (14.7 more per game indicates both liberal interpretations of what defines hits and more actual hitting), a 2.6-percent better power play and does not cough up the puck like the guests (4.6 fewer per game). The latter advantage actually gives the host a margin of three possessions more than their than their guests over their respective opposition—that is three possessions over the entire 2013-14 NHL season.
The Blue Jackets are fighting just to make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Eastern Conference with 73 points. They are a decent 10-10-2 vs. the Western Conference and a solid 19-11-2 at home. Their tweaks at the NHL trade deadline (the Sharks made none) were more for the future than the present, but nevertheless designed to keep the expectation of postseason play.
At about 4:08 p.m. PDT Monday, the puck will drop on the game pitting San Jose's statistical superiority against Columbus' pictured advantages. Before dinner ends in California, we will have our answer as to which wins.