San Jose Sharks Limp into Contest vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIFebruary 21, 2012

Rick Nash has been the subject of trade rumours this month
Rick Nash has been the subject of trade rumours this monthHarry How/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks are 1-3-1 on their current road trip. They were only 5-5-1 in the 11 games before that.

Only poor play by the Los Angeles Kings has kept them from seeing their commanding (over 50 percentage points) lead in the standings erode entirely. Their lead is now just two points with two games in hand (i.e. two games in any sport that keeps standings rationally) over the red hot Phoenix Coyotes.

It should help that the Sharks are playing the worst team in the league. Columbus is nine more points under .500 than any other team.

Perhaps that explains why captain and subject of trade rumours Rick Nash recently said that right now, the team is having fun because it is winning after a mere 4-3-1 stretch. To a team like the Sharks, that is struggling; to a team like Columbus, the Sharks 6-8-2 stretch would be an improvement.

The talk of trading their only elite player will not help the Jackets, either. But the Sharks cannot afford to overlook them—a loss to the easiest team on their road trip would be devastating.

Even with their struggles on this trip, the Sharks are three points above .500 on the road. Columbus is six points below .500 at home.

San Jose has a statistical advantage in every single major category. Even the recently improved but still fourth-worst penalty kill (78.4 percent) compares favourably to the worst (75.8).

And where Columbus is solid—faceoffs (51.2 is eighth in the NHL), shots per game (29.9 ranks 13th) and shots against (30.2 is tied for 14th)—San Jose is stronger (53 percent is second, 34.8 first and 28.4 sixth best, respectively).

The rest of the stats are not even close. The Sharks average 2.82 goals per game (ninth) to the Jackets' 2.25 (28th). They give up 2.44 (eighth) to the Jackets' 3.22 (29th). San Jose is sixth best five-on-five (1.22 goals per score yielded) and Columbus is second-worst (.73). The Sharks power play ranks third in the NHL at 21.1 percent while the Jackets are 22nd at 16.3.

In three meetings in January, the Sharks squeaked out two 2-1 victories before getting a 6-0 blowout to end the month. They need another such game so the overworked top lines and pairs can rest their road weary legs in the third period and the team can finish the trip with some confidence.