The San Jose Sharks are a playoff hockey team.
It may seem tenuous, but they are currently in a position to make the postseason. In fact, despite their recent struggles, all the Sharks need to do is play slightly better than .500 hockey the rest of the way, and they will have a chance at the Stanley Cup.
Given the talent, depth and ability of their roster, this should not be a problem.
Over the past five seasons, the eighth-place team in the Western conference heading into the playoffs has averaged 94 points.
With 17 games remaining and 74 points secured, that threshold is very much within the Sharks' grasp.
Here are 10 reasons why the postseason is already a lock for San Jose.
Currently sitting in eighth place, the Sharks realistically have five teams behind them that could knock them out of the playoffs: the Los Angeles Kings (72 points), Colorado Avalanche (72 points), Calgary Flames (70 points), Anaheim Ducks (66 points) and Minnesota Wild (66 points).
Each of these teams is flawed more significantly than San Jose.
All five teams rank in the bottom 10 of the league in goals per game. Meanwhile, the Sharks are in the top 12.
Plus, the team in teal only allows an average of 2.5 pucks to get in the net per contest, whereas the other five contenders allow at least 2.6. This may not seem like a major difference, but over the 15-17 games remaining in the season, it could decide a game or two.
With points at a premium, that slight advantage is all the Sharks need.
During their recent struggles, the San Jose Sharks have been making some uncharacteristic mistakes. In being sluggish and lazy with the puck, they have given opponents extra opportunities on net while keeping themselves from capitalizing on their own chances.
This is not indicative of the true capabilities of the team.
The Sharks have a plus-16 in goal differential this season, good for fifth best in the conference and the largest margin in the division.
Not only that, but the Los Angeles Kings are the only team currently behind them with a positive goal differential at plus-3.
Of the 40 teams to make the Western Conference playoffs in the past five seasons, only the 2008-2009 Columbus Blue Jackets had a negative number in this category.
Over the next month and half, San Jose will get back to its old ways and this stat will show through.
The Sharks have eight games remaining at the Shark Tank before the postseason begins.
So far this year, the team in teal has won 60 percent of its home games.
If the Sharks keep with this pace, they will win five or more of those remaining games. If they secure those victories. they will need roughly eight to 10 more points to reach the 94-point threshold.
Meanwhile, the rest of the teams contending with San Jose have worse home records.
For all intents and purposes, the next month is playoff hockey for the San Jose Sharks.
With the exception of only a few players, every man on the Sharks roster has been to the postseason. More importantly, the core of the team has been there together multiple times. They understand the extra toughness and effort it takes when every game has implications for the rest of the season.
The other teams battling to get into the top eight in the conference do not have this added benefit.
San Jose does not need to worry about players knowing their roles when it comes to crunch time, as players already understand what needs to be done.
With the team in eighth place, this experienced group recognizes exactly how to secure a playoff spot.
Although it seems late in the season to be looking at this, the Sharks have played an average of two less games than the rest of the Western Conference.
This is generally considered to be an advantage, but of course, it has its drawbacks as well.
On the positive side, it means that the Sharks control their own destiny. Already in the top eight, San Jose would have to lose to allow other teams a chance.
On the other hand, teams that have already played their games have set the bar. They have points and don’t have to worry about what might be.
From the Sharks’ perspective, though, they can simply worry about themselves. By taking care of their opponents and playing good hockey, they will be in the playoffs.
San Jose leaves the western part of North America exactly one more time this season, for a single game tomorrow in Dallas against the Stars.
Other playoff contenders are not so lucky.
By staying close to HP Pavilion and not straying very far from the Pacific Time Zone, the Sharks' bodies and minds will be well rested and ready to perform in pivotal games.
February was a rough month for the Sharks. In it, they won just three of their 14 games, only picking up seven points out of a possible 28.
Needless to say, they were not sorry to see February come to an end.
Sometimes, the simple changing of months can help the psyche of struggling teams. Last year, the Sharks won 12 games in the final two months of season. The year before that, they won 11.
If they pick up a similar amount of wins here in March and April 2012, they will be in a playoff spot with over 94 points.
The easiest way for the Sharks to secure a spot in the postseason is to win the Pacific Division.
Surprisingly, even though they have only won two of their last 10 games, they are only two points out of first place with two games in hand on the teams tied at the top, the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars.
Not only that, but no team has really taken control when playing divisional opponents.
The Stars, Coyotes, Kings and Ducks have each won roughly 50 percent of their games against each other.
At 7-6-0, the Sharks are right in the middle of the pack as well.
With 11 of their 17 remaining contests against Pacific teams, the Sharks have an opportunity to take control of the division and grab a spot in the playoffs.
One of the Sharks' greatest assets is the man they have wearing the “C” on his sweater. As captain, Joe Thornton is a veteran capable of leading the team with his words and his play on the ice.
As the stretch run approaches, Thornton currently leads the team in points and assists, while being fourth in goals. Plus, he is saying all the right things off the ice.
He is a bona fide leader and is not going to allow this team to fall out of the top eight in the Western Conference.
In fact, since Thornton arrived during the 2005-2006 season, San Jose has not missed the playoffs.
The Sharks currently have the fourth-best scoring percentage in the NHL with the man advantage, but the third-worst penalty kill. Fortunately, in the final month-and-a-half of the season, this latter statistic will likely improve.
In the trade that sent Jamie McGinn to the Colorado Avalanche, San Jose got two players who are experienced when opponents are on the power play.
T.J. Galiardi is a known irritant around the league, while Daniel Winnik logged the second-most short-handed ice time for Colorado at the time of the trade.
As those two acclimate, the Sharks will become more stingy defensively, decreasing opponents' already low average of 2.5 goals per game.
With the natural progression of the new acquisitions and continued production from their own power play, the Sharks are a lock for the Stanley Cup playoffs.