San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs Battle to Stay off Life Support

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIFebruary 23, 2012

Ron Wilson looks to even his record against his former team tonight
Ron Wilson looks to even his record against his former team tonightAbelimages/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks head to the Air Canada Centre to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at 4pm PST.

Unless you are a fan of one of the teams—or of train wrecks—this game should not be on your to-do list. Sharks and Leafs fans can watch this game hoping their team can take advantage of a team in disarray: Toronto has lost six of seven and San Jose seven of nine.

In the process, the Sharks have seen their once-commanding lead in the Pacific Division dwindle to two games in hand over the Phoenix Coyotes (both at 69 points). The Los Angeles Kings are still 3.5 games back, but now if they catch the Sharks they knock them out of the playoffs rather than just off the Pacific Division perch.

"The disappointing thing for me is the lack of urgency that we entered the game with," coach Todd McLellan said after the game. "Right now we should be a desperate team."

Former Sharks coach Ron Wilson has also been disappointed by his team.

They were fighting to move into sixth in the Eastern Conference, but now stand just a game from being outside the playoff picture altogether. A late tying goal by Phil Kessel Tuesday prevented them from being officially listed behind the Winnipeg Jets.

The Leafs are 16-9-5 at home this season, and the Sharks are 13-11-5 on the road. But they have dropped five of six on this trip and nine of their last 11 on the road overall.

San Jose's power play remains red hot, with six goals in its last 22 chances (27.3 percent) elevating it to third-best in the league (21.2). That could be a problem for the Leafs' 29th-ranked penalty kill (77.0 percent).

However, after nearly two months of being over 85 percent on their own PK, the Sharks have tailed back off on this trip, allowing seven goals in 24 chances (70.8 percent killed) and dropping back to 28th overall (77.5). Toronto has the ninth-best power play in the NHL at 18.9 percent.

The Sharks are still the sixth-best team in the league five-on-five, scoring six goals for every five they give up. Toronto is barely below average at .97 scored per goal surrendered.

San Jose also maintains the best shot differential in the league (plus-6.4/game) in large part because they are the second-best team in the faceoff circle (52.9 percent). However, Toronto is in the top half of the NHL in the circle (50.9) but only 20th in shot differential (minus-1.7).

Toronto scores 2.97 goals per game, good for eighth in the NHL. The Sharks are ranked right behind them at 2.83. Clearly, it is not scoring that is causing the problem for these teams.

Despite giving up three or more goals in each of their last nine games (36 overall), the Sharks remain ninth defensively at 2.5 goals per game. It will be interesting to see who Coach McLellan starts in net, as Antti Niemi has three consecutive games with under a .900 save percentage.

Toronto is having similar problems, with six straight games giving up three or more (27 total). However, this is less surprising coming from the third-worst defence in the league (3.02 GAA).

Whichever squad can stop the bleeding in their own end will win this game. If it is not the Sharks, they may well find themselves dropping from third to seventh in the conference, as Phoenix can technically overtake them with a win in Calgary.