The official NHL standings list the Dallas Stars three points ahead of the San Jose Sharks. They have a two-point lead over the Phoenix Coyotes and will own the tiebreaker at the conclusion of each team's game Thursday.
Thus, the Dallas Stars will wake up Friday morning still officially listed in first place in the NHL Pacific standings. They have their own eight-game points streak (7-0-1) and their rivals' struggles to thank for it: San Jose is on a 4-10-2 run and Phoenix mired in a four-game losing streak.
But the reality is that any loss to the Sharks moves them out of first place. The Sharks have played two fewer games, so even an overtime or shootout loss for Dallas leaves the teams in a virtual tie due to San Jose having the better point percentage.
It would also be Dallas' sixth consecutive loss to the Sharks. They have been outscored in three previous meetings this season, 14-5.
But these two teams are not the same ones who have met over the past calendar year. San Jose has been a terrible team save for two 15-game stretches this season, winning just 11 times in the other 36 games.
Yet two of those wins came against the Stars. Both were at home, but until last season the home team lost the majority of matchups after the lockout.
The Sharks better hope that it does not matter where and when these two teams play, because they are in desperate need of a win. Right now, they just cannot get all components of their game going at once.
What gives, the Sharks dominance of the Stars or their recent losing ways?
After their last game against Dallas, the Sharks gave up three or more goals (and 47 total) in 11 of 12 games. Their penalty kill that had been over 85 percent for two months after a slow start was below 75 percent again.
On the homestand that followed, they shored up their defense but scored just four goals in four games. In the process, their potent power play (still fourth in the league) abandoned them.
The Stars come in with the fourth-worst power play (14.6 percent), but the 10th-best penalty kill (82.7). They're above average in 5-on-5 play, but the Sharks are still sixth in the league there—helpful with the referees clearly calling fewer penalties of late.
San Jose remains a puck-possession team, relying on their face-off prowess (53.5 percent, second in the NHL) where Dallas struggles (49 percent ranks 22nd). This is why the Sharks still rank second behind Pittsburgh in shot differential (plus-6) while the Stars rank 24th (minus-2.4).
Overall, San Jose is still the 12th best scoring team at 2.69 goals while Dallas is 16th at 2.60. The Sharks give up the seventh-fewest goals per game (2.49) while the Stars rank 11th (2.63).
The Sharks are healthy save Martin Havlat, who has traveled with the team but is not going to play Thursday. The Stars reported no injuries, and both teams last played Tuesday night.