The Sharks went 2-5-2 in a nine-game stretch starting just after Thanksgiving to fall out of first place. Two recent wins have them back to the best record in the Pacific Division, but precariously enough that they are listed as the eighth seed in the official NHL standings.
Similarly, the Bolts have won two in a row and hope they are turning things around after a 1-7 stretch that sent them plummeting to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Before that, the team was at least a respectable 11-9-2.
The problem for both teams is their recent wins were tight games against bad teams. Tampa's both came on the road, but one of them needed overtime.
San Jose beat the Edmonton Oilers in a difficult game Saturday. However, the Sharks were the better team in almost every category: giveaways (18-19), takeaways (11-5), faceoffs (34-24), shots on goal (37-25) and attempted (68-54). Even where they were beaten—hits (15-12) and blocked shots (22-18)—it was only in real numbers, not relative ones.
The Sharks' faceoff wins plus takeaways and Edmonton giveaways totaled 64, while the reverse number was 47. That means the Sharks' ratio of hits to Edmonton's total of 47 was 25.5 percent, while Edmonton's ratio was 24.3 percent. The Sharks also averaged more blocks to shots attempted (33.3 vs. 28.2 percent) and shots on goal (72 vs. 59.5 percent).
Getting three goals past Nikolai Khabibulin was a chore, as he came into the game giving up fewer than two per game. And while the Sharks' power play finally scored once, it also gave up a short-handed goal.
He had just begun to produce on the third line with red-hot Handzus and Jamie McGinn. However, this may give Brad Winchester the minutes he deserves against Tampa.
The Sharks' power play now ranks 14th at 17.9 percent, while Tampa's penalty kill is 20th at 81.2 percent. The Lightning's power play is 24th at 15.3 percent, but the Sharks' PK is 29th at 73.6.
Thus, the game will probably come down to even strength play. This is good news for the Sharks, who rank fourth scoring 1.45 goals for every score they give up, while Tampa gives up 1.14 for every goal they score.
Both teams have a mediocre offence, with the Sharks ranked 11th at 2.77 goals per game and Tampa right behind them at 2.66 (16th). But San Jose gives up the ninth-fewest goals (2.43) while Tampa gives up the third-most (3.28). One reason for this may be that the Sharks are the second-best faceoff team in the NHL while Tampa is 23rd.