The next 16-game stretch for the San Jose Sharks will make or break their season. After a long layoff post-All-Star break, the Sharks won’t play again until Feb. 14. From that point until the trade deadline, they will play 16 times in just under five weeks. Let’s break down the grueling stretch and discuss why it will make or break the Sharks’ season.
Sharks in a Numbers Game
The Sharks this season have a .522 points percentage, meaning they get at least a point from a game 52% of the time. This has the team currently four points out of a playoff spot. That final spot is held by the Calgary Flames, who also have four games in hand. The St. Louis Blues are nine points ahead of the Sharks with two games in hand. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are seven points ahead of the Sharks, with one and two more games played, respectively.
The Sharks have 16 games remaining from February 14 to March 20. During that stretch, the only teams they play with a worse points percentage are the Vancouver Canucks (.500), New York Islanders (.487), Seattle Kraken (.370), and the Arizona Coyotes (.289). The Sharks lost the Canucks on December 16 at home in their only other meeting. They lost to the Kraken twice, once at home and once on the road, and barely beat the Islanders (overtime) and the Coyotes (shootout) so getting points against any of those teams is no sure thing.
What is worse is that the combined winning percentage of the other teams they have to face is .624. Based on the numbers, the Sharks are a long shot to secure a playoff spot. They would have to go on a remarkable run of winning games against tough teams even to have a chance. From March 6 to the 17, the Sharks play the Kings three times and the Ducks once, so those rivalry games could go either way. All of this boils down to an 11% chance of making the playoffs for the Sharks, according to Money Puck.
How the Sharks Will Make the Playoffs?
If the Sharks are going to make the playoffs this season, just about everything will have to go right. According to Evolving Hockey, they are currently 17th in expected goals against per 60 minutes while being 20th in expected goals for per 60 minutes. To have a realistic chance at the postseason, both of those ranks will have to be top 15, if not the top 10.
Timo Meier will have to continue his near 100 point pace and drag everyone on his line to covert more goals. The team will need more offense from secondary scorers like Alexander Barabanov, Rudolfs Balcers, Nick Bonino, and Noah Gregor. Jonathan Dahlen will have to resume the early-season pace that had him in the Calder Trophy conversation.
The Sharks are going to need more scoring from their defensemen. At this point, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are 13th and 21st in scoring by defenders this season. Not bad, but the Sharks are going to need even more if they hope to punch their ticket to the postseason. With Karlsson on the shelf, there was hope that rookie Ryan Merkley could help with the offense, but he only played in two games without Karlsson and registered an even-strength assist.
The goaltending certainly hasn’t been the main problem this season, but considering their unfavorable schedule, James Reimer and Adin Hill will have to play even better the rest of the way. Reimer has been great so far this season, saving four goals above expected (GSAx), according to Evolving Hockey. Hill has been far worse with -9.38 GSAx, which will have to dramatically turn around as Reimer will be unable to play every game until the trade deadline without considerable fatigue. There are three back-to-back sets in this period, so Reimer should play 13 of these 16 games at the most.
Why the Sharks Won’t Make the Playoffs
Since the odds are so stacked against them, anything short of a miraculous run will see the Sharks miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Having a good stretch of games where they win more than they lose will not be enough. Even if most Sharks players improve their game, score more than they have all season, or stop more pucks than they have all season, it may not be enough. The Sharks just didn’t bank enough points when they could, and the outlook is bleak.
It seems all but guaranteed that the Sharks will be getting a high draft pick this offseason. Anything short of a miraculous run in these next 16 games will leave them on the outside looking in. At least they should get a quality prospect to play with William Eklund down the road, though that doesn’t help Sharks’ fans now who are frustrated by this lack of winning. I’m sure the players are frustrated by it as well. This means the most likely outcome is that the Sharks will be sellers at the trade deadline, and Tomas Hertl may not be a Shark next season.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12