NHL Pacific Showdown Preview: San Jose Sharks @ Dallas Stars

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IINovember 19, 2011

Joe Pavelski has been almost as unstoppable scoring as his Green Bay Packers
Joe Pavelski has been almost as unstoppable scoring as his Green Bay PackersChris Trotman/Getty Images

Since 2008, the San Jose Sharks have spent most of their time in first place in the Pacific Division. After a win over the rival Detroit Red Wings Thursday, that is once again where they find themselves.

Sure, the NHL standings will not say that. They give two teams who are only four points above .500 the nod over the plus-five Sharks because of an ridiculous system that favours teams who it schedules for 25 percent more games than another team.

It never changes because it does not matter in the end, when every team will have played 82 games. Any coach or team official who focuses on the standings before that takes his team's focus from what is important—winning the next game.

San Jose is always focused on that task when that game is against the Detroit Red Wings. While the two teams have been very even in standings and in goals scored head-to-head over the past two-plus seasons, the Sharks have now won six in-a-row in the regular season and eight of 12 playoff match-ups in that span.

The Sharks followed the theme of the season by finding a different way to win.

The Sharks typically control the puck through winning faceoffs. This leads to more shots on the positive end but more giveaways, fewer takeaways and hits as well as fewer blocks on the negative end.

In this one, while the Sharks won 11 more faceoffs and only gave one of those possessions back in giveaway/takeaway differential, they inexplicably attempted fewer than half as many shots (84-41). Still, they were more efficient with them in every way:

Detroit missed the net 18 times (21.4 percent of attempts) to San Jose's six (14.6 percent). The Sharks blocked 24 shots (28.6 percent of Detroit's attempts) and the Red Wings blocked only seven (17.1 percent). Most importantly, the home team scored five times (17.9 percent of shots on goal and 12.2 percent of attempts) while the road team netted just two (4.8 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively).

The one area of concern remains the penalty kill. A struggling Red Wings power play (18th overall, no points for Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk and zero for their last 16 as a team) scored two goals in three chances.

Even in that there is a silver lining. After being dominated throughout the first period and falling behind due to a failed penalty kill, the second penalty of the period by struggling defenceman Jason Demers actually turned around the game.

On Marc-Edouard Vlasic's clear, the puck did not quite reach Jimmy Howard in the trapezoid and Joe Thornton was able to chase it down. He changed direction behind the net and three defenders followed a passer while none picked up shooter Joe Pavelski, who one-timed fellow Joe's feed high to Howard's glove side.

It was the first of four points by Pickles, who is having his best season and now has the points to show for it. In addition to remaining the Sharks best defender (his plus-nine leads the team), his eight points are right there with the Sharks two offensive stars on the blue line (two fewer than Dan Boyle and two more than Brent Burns).

With the win, the Sharks are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games. Dallas, who also started last season leading the division, dropped their fourth in a row in Colorado Friday night, 3-0.

Home ice is unlikely to be an advantage for the Stars since the Sharks were waiting for them to return to Dallas. Then again, it has not been an advantage in this matchup for some time, with the road team winning 22 of the last 34 games.

San Jose is sixth in scoring at 2.94 goals per game this season, while Dallas is 20th at 2.56—the exact number that San Jose yields. This ranks the Sharks 14th defensively, while the Stars are 17th, giving up 2.78 per game.

Special teams favour Dallas because San Jose's penalty kill is now the worst in the league (73.2 percent) while Dallas is 17th (81.8 percent). However, the Sharks do have the fourth best power play (21.0) while the Stars are 10th (18.6).

Fortunately for the Sharks, they are not a highly penalized team. If they stay out of the box or start clearing pucks on the penalty kill, this is a lopsided matchup between a hot contender and a team plummeting back to where the mediocrity befitting their talent.