In the San Jose Sharks' post-game show, a graphic showed just how one-sided the team's series with the Dallas Stars has been: three wins, no losses, 14 goals scored and five yielded, 5-for-14 on the power play.
Against the rest of the division that the Sharks have dominated for four years running—including two teams lower in the standings than Dallas—they are 4-5-0 with 18 goals scored, 19 yielded and a 5-for-42 power play.
Good thing three of San Jose's final 33 games are against Dallas. Even better that one more is on the second of back-to-back nights for the Stars, who are now 0-8-1 in those games for the season.
The Sharks can use all the nights off they can get, as no NHL team has more games left to play on their schedule. The ability to win home games against lesser teams who are at a disadvantage does not prove anything about the Sharks' ability to win the Stanley Cup; but winning handily will reduce their wear and tear. With the Los Angeles Kings looking to close the gap in the division, this is important.
The Sharks also need this to reduce their injuries, with Jason Demers and Tommy Wingels going to injured reserve. Antti Niemi also missed Thursday's game with an unspecified injury that coach Todd McLellan expected would only cost him one game. It is probably for that reason that the team called up Tyson Sexsmith to back up Thomas Greiss, rather than risk losing Antero Niittymaki when he has to clear waivers to be sent down again.
Right now, 11 goals scored, two allowed and three power-play goals in eight chances since the All-Star break suggest the Sharks offense has awoken.
Ryane Clowe was back in the lineup on Thursday and had one of the team's five goals. Brent Burns looks on track with another game (three assists, three hits, a takeaway and a blocked shot) worthy of the blockbuster trade that brought him to San Jose.
The Sharks have needed more consistent production from their stars. Joe Thornton has a two-game goal streak and was one of the four star forwards (Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture) on the team with two points.
But winning teams need contributions from top to bottom. No player had less than the 9:32 of ice time that Jim Vandermeer managed; but he still had a takeaway and two shot attempts. Brad Winchester had five more seconds on the ice but had two shots, a hit and was 4-for-4 in the faceoff circle.
In fact, every Shark to take a draw won at least two more than they lost, giving the team a whopping 40-12 edge (76.9 percent). Despite the higher puck possession, San Jose had half the number of giveaways (7-14) and more takeaways (7-5).
It is no wonder they were out-hit 33-15—but a small wonder they had only a 37-21 edge in shots on goal. The one thing Dallas did well was block shots, with 21 on 73 (28.8 percent) Sharks attempts. Even there the Sharks were right with them, with 11 of 41 (26.8).
The Sharks have another game in front of them they might be able to control. While Phoenix is at home and well-rested, the Coyotes are 7-12-5 since December 6th, when they last had a better record than San Jose. The Sharks are 15-5-5 during that same stretch, despite that time being the beginning of their injury problems.
Even setting aside which team is hot and which is not, the Sharks hold a clear edge over the entire season in just about every statistic.
The Sharks are the second-best team in the league in the faceoff circle (53.4 percent), while the Coyotes are below average (49.9). That is why San Jose gives up the fifth-fewest shots per game (28.1) and registers the most (34.8), while the Coyotes are give up the fifth-most (31.3) and generate fewer (29.6) than more than half of the league (17th).
San Jose's recent offensive resurgence has them back in the top 10 at 2.78 goals per game. With power-play goals in four of the last five games, the Sharks have jumped back into the top 10 at 18.6 percent.
Phoenix is ahead of just 10 teams in scoring at 2.53 goals per game, and has second-worst power play in the NHL at 12.5 percent. However, even with the recent improvements to their penalty kill (37 of last 44—84.1 percent would be good for ninth in the league), the Sharks still rank third-worst, while Phoenix is 10th at 83.9 percent.
Still, because San Jose is one of the least-penalized teams in the league, their PK does not keep them from having the fifth-best defence in the league (2.22 GAA), while Phoenix ranks 11th (2.61). Without many power-play opportunities or a potent unit when they have them, the Coyotes will have trouble matching up.
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