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With Olympic hockey almost over, Sharks can focus on improving special teams

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The San Jose Sharks are doing fine, as usual, as the National Hockey League prepares to return from the 2014 Winter Olympics break: they are firmly entrenched in second place in the Pacific Division, which would give them home-ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Sharks (37-16-6, 80 points) trail the first-place Anaheim Ducks (41-14-5, 87 points) by less than they lead the third-place Los Angeles Kings (31-22-6, 68 points). The top three teams in the division are guaranteed playoff spots in the new format being used for the 2014 postseason.

The fourth-place Phoenix Coyotes (27-21-10, 64 points) and the fifth-place Vancouver Canucks (27-24-9, 63 points) are chasing the Kings for that valuable third-place spot, although there are also the two Western Conference wild-card spots up for grabs as well after the Central Division's top three are determined.

With just 23 games left, San Jose is in a great position, but if they want to reach their first Stanley Cup Final ever, they'll need to work on their power-play effort, which currently ranks just 18th in the NHL with a 17.2 percent success rate.

The Sharks are ninth in scoring overall (2.8 goals per game) fourth in scoring defense overall (2.3 gpg) and eighth in power-kill success (83.7 percent). So the offensive special-teams unit is the one that really needs the team's attention going forward.

(Oh, and that third-period defense thing, too, but that is probably a lost cause at this point. No point in beating a dead horse any longer, right?)

Center Joe Pavelski is third in the NHL with ten power-play goals, but other than fellow center Patrick Marleau (he ranks 22nd in the league with seven PP scores), no other Sharks player is in the Top 40 in goals scored on the man advantage.

The team's No. 1 center, Joe Thornton, has 14 assists on the power play to rank 15th in the league, and Pavelski has 11 assists to rank 30th.

San Jose has certainly missed the scoring abilities of Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, both injured and out for awhile before the Olympic break occurred. Couture practiced on the ice Wednesday, February 19th, and he should be ready to go when the Sharks resume play in Philadelphia against the Flyers on the 27th.

Hertl may be out for the rest of the year with a knee injury, however.

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