In the NHL Western Conference standings, the San Jose Sharks are one game ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. But both the recent play and the feeling for both teams coming into their match-up Wednesday, March 20 would suggest their positions were reversed.
San Jose's struggles (5-10-6) since their last game with Edmonton in the final hours of that glorious January start to the 2013 NHL season have put the second-longest active Stanley Cup playoff streak (eight seasons) in jeopardy. Meanwhile, their opponent has hit a 3-0-1 spurt to make a bid for their first playoff since 2006.
The Sharks won both previous games, and still appear to be the better team on paper. But they have proven to be a terrible road team (2-9-1) since winning their second game of the year the last time they visited the Oilers. Even in that game they gave up the only two goals scored in the last two periods...after scoring six in the first.
So why are they slumping?
Sharks need to keep swimming to avoid sinking. At least some on this team took 2:40 off—mentally if not emotionally and physically—in the second period of Monday's loss in Anaheim to turn an otherwise good effort into another loss. That cannot happen with a team that has title aspirations but is struggling to make the Stanley Cup playoffs
It also does not bode well against their young, enthusiastic hosts. Despite all the problems Ryane Clowe is having, he plays hard every moment. He is injured and replaced with Martin Havlat, well-known for taking shifts off.
The trick for any preview is to balance trends and statistics. A four-game trend means little for Edmonton, but 21 games can hardly be considered a trend for San Jose—i.e. it is more likely they represent what the team is than the seven-game winning streak to start the season.
Thus, the teams are what they are by this point in the season. As with Western Conference standings, the list of NHL statistics seems to favor San Jose.