The San Jose Sharks are currently the first-placed team in the Pacific Division. With depth and skill at almost every position they are one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference.
Yet again, they are primed for one of the top spots in the playoffs.
With only four points separating them from third place, though, the Sharks are unlikely to be runaway winners. The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are their strongest competition and each has their strengths. The Coyotes are able to have similar amounts of success on the road as they do at home, while the Kings goaltending is superb.
However, San Jose is the more complete team with experience on their side.
Here are five reasons the Sharks will win the Pacific Division:
When other teams take penalties, the Sharks take advantage.
Of the five teams in the Pacific division, the Sharks are the best with the man advantage with 41 power play goals. Their 21.1 percent success on the power play places them in the top five in the league as well.
They make opponents pay for going to the box.
Good teams take advantage of other teams’ mistakes. Having added offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to the power play, the Sharks have five players on the ice who can put the puck in the net.
That is a luxury that few teams have, and it separates the men in teal from the rest of their division.
Aside from the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks are the best team in the Pacific at preventing other teams from lighting the lamp. Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss have a combined .915 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.
Those numbers place them in the top 10 in the league.
With the Sharks ability to score, those numbers are exactly where they need to be. The Kings are significantly better in net, with Jonathan Quick in the top three in the NHL in save percentage and GAA, but they are the worst scoring team in the league.
Antti Niemi is a playoff and battle-tested goaltender with a proven track record. In every season as a starter, he has made it to the postseason.
Down the stretch he can and will provide a solid force in net.
In a division where the Sharks have played two less games than their opponents, they hold an edge.
Despite being in the middle of a nine game road trip, the Sharks have made it through the worst of it. In their final four games they will take on Columbus, Toronto, Nashville and Minnesota. Even after losing their last three, San Jose should be able to find at least three wins against those opponents.
Then, after that, they finish the season by playing 12 of 21 at home.
At HP Pavilion this season, the Sharks are 18-9-2. Keeping with that pace they will win eight or nine of their remaining home games.
Then, if they win just slightly more than half of their contests away from San Jose, they will be in prime position to take the division, comfortably in the 95 to 100 point range.
In the Pacific, there is no team better in the faceoff circle than the Sharks. In fact, there are few teams in the entire league better than them.
This skill gives them two advantages.
In winning a draw the Sharks allow themselves to posses the puck more than their opponents. In turn, they create more offensive chances. This also minimizes other teams’ abilities to have continued pressure in their end.
The Sharks strong play in the faceoff circle will keep them in games, while also giving them a prime opportunity to win the Pacific.
The Sharks love to put the puck on net and lead the league in shots per game. Defensively, they also protect their own net as they permit only 28 shots per game.
The over 6 shot differential between the Sharks and their opponents is one of the best in NHL. This game plan will not change and will continue to generate quality scoring chances.
More often than not, those chances lead to Sharks goals.
With 2.84 goals per game, the Sharks have a distinct advantage on every team in their division and most teams in the league when it comes to lighting the lamp.
Barring injury, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and the rest of the Sharks scorers are not going away. They are the main reason this team is the favorite to win their division.