After losing badly Saturday, March 16 to the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks got on a bus ahead of their game against the Pacific Division rival Anaheim Ducks Monday. They had better find their game fast.
When these teams last met, the Sharks sat atop the NHL standings without a regulation loss. Their loss that night was part of a seven game losing streak and was the beginning of a 5-9-5 stretch to date.
All San Jose's deficiencies are strengths of Anaheim. The home team has much deeper scoring, including getting it from their blue line, and has been on a roll all season. They have only three regulation losses all season, with the last one 11 games back.
The backbone of the Sharks has been defense, and it has kept them in the 90 percent of their games since late January in which they fail to score more than two goals. But for five games in a row, they have allowed at least three goals.
San Jose will almost certainly be without Martin Havlat and Thomas Greiss. Anaheim is without Corey Perry, Nick Bonino and maybe Brad Staubitz.
The Sharks are no longer concerned about catching the Ducks in the Pacific Division standings. If they failed to get just seven points in their final 21 games (a point percentage of .833), they still could not capture the division crown unless their rivals played under .500—virtually impossible to do with all the three-point games in the Western Conference.
San Jose must focus on making the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is not much more time for this declining team to prove that having three non-shootout wins in eight weeks is an anomaly like their comparatively short eight-game point streak to start the 2013 NHL season seems to have been.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has about two weeks to before the NHL trade deadline April 3 to figure out whether his team is a contender in the Western Conference. Failure to get a point here will drop them out of a Stanley Cup playoff position and put that status in serious question.
Anyone can look at the record and see the Ducks are better. Comparing NHL statistics like goals and shots scored and yielded or percentages on the power play or penalty kill gives an indication of why, as the Sharks lag behind in all but shots for and penalty kill. But there is a list of areas of the game often overlooked revealing at least one advantage they can try to exploit.