The San Jose Sharks’ Thin Margins

The San Jose Sharks just finished their last lengthy homestand of the season, six games in total, and did just enough to call it a success, collecting eight points. But this was the sort of opportunity which only comes along once in a season and well, it could have been better.

The Sharks played a weaker group of opponents in this homestand. Three teams of the six opponents were very down and well out of the playoff hunt and the Sharks won all three of these games. They also beat a reeling St. Louis Blues team. Regulation losses, however, came at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals. Columbus sports a record worse than San Jose while the Caps’ record was essentially identical to San Jose’s when they played on Saturday.

Joe Pavelski Sharks
Sharks captain Joe Pavelski (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In short, this was a rare opportunity; the kind of homestand setup for perhaps 10 points or more out of a possible 12. And truth be told, the Sharks weren’t far from it. Both losses were one-goal games before an empty-netter put each game away for the victors.

The Sharks did enough to maintain their spot in the very tight race in the Western Conference playoff chase but were unable to create any separation.

Next up for the Sharks is a three-game road trip to western Canada. Two games are against struggling teams, one in Edmonton and the other in Vancouver. The game against the Calgary Flames, however, is a very big one. Both teams are chasing the same playoff spots.

After the upcoming road trip ends, the schedule toughens considerably. The Sharks play nine of their 10 remaining games against teams which will either make the playoffs or are in close contention. Half of the games come against teams battling San Jose for playoff spots in the Western Conference. Three other games come against teams already locked into a playoff spot.

The Costly Sharks Power Play

Given the tough road ahead, the Sharks missed opportunity means they have little room for error the rest of the way. A strong road trip which earns five or six points will set the Sharks up nicely, even with the challenging final ten games. However, a modest trip which includes a loss to Calgary is going to make life very difficult.

The recipe for San Jose’s success has been straightforward all season long. Play good defense with a solid puck possession offense, get good goaltending and win the battle on special teams. The Sharks are doing all of the above except for the special teams part. The penalty kill is upholding their end of the bargain, but the power play is not. The Sharks need all of these elements, not most of them. The missing power play has cost this team.

Logan Couture Sharks
Leading goal scorer Logan Couture has no power play points since Feb. 8. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Against the Capitals, they failed on both power-play chances. Against Columbus, they failed on all four. In the last 15 games, the Sharks have two power-play goals in 34 attempts, bumping along as the worst in the league during this timeframe. How important is the power play? In the two games they managed a power-play goal, they won both. In the three games in which they lost the special teams battle, they lost twice.

Over these 15 games, the Sharks are 9-5-1. Five of the six losses were either tie games or one-goal games (excluding empty-net scores). This means one more goal gets the team at least one more point in each game. In these five games, all 12 power play opportunities came up empty.

Prior to the slump, San Jose scored at least one power-play goal in 33 of 54 games, better than 60 percent. In the first 18 games of 2018, the Sharks scored 16 power -lay goals in 55 attempts, a sizzling 29-percent clip. But this all disappeared (with the absence of Joe Thornton playing a major role) in early February. They went from nearly a power play goal per game to a power-play goal once every couple of weeks.

The Sharks are playing well enough to put themselves in a playoff spot, but the outage from the power play is keeping the Sharks from separating from the tight pack in the Western Conference. They’ll have another chance to gain a bit of separation on the three-game road trip in western Canada. But unless the Sharks dominate this trip, they’ll enter the final 10-game dogfight with little margin for error.