Just over two weeks ago, the Sharks began a stint of six divisional games in third place in the Pacific.
After a shootout win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday, San Jose ended those six games in third place in the Pacific.
A lot changed above them. The Vegas Golden Knights (yes, those Golden Knights) and Los Angeles Kings (yes, those Kings) swapped spots atop the division.
The teams below them, meanwhile, are in the same order they were on December 14.
Even though their standings position did not change following a 4-1-1 run, the Sharks created some separation with the five teams chasing them for the Pacific’s final playoff spot. Before this stretch, the Sharks were tied with the Flames on points and had two games in hand.
They still have games in hand, but are now four points clear of Calgary. Ditto the Ducks, who were two points back of the Sharks a fortnight ago.
San Jose also made progress towards a move up the standings. They are five points back of the second divisional spot, but now have three games in hand as opposed to one.
But the stretch was still something of a missed opportunity. The Sharks dropped points by beating Vancouver in overtime and Calgary in the shootout, and the former ensured one less regulation/overtime win (ROW), the league’s primary playoff tiebreaker.
That could come back to haunt them, particularly as they stare down an incredibly difficult portion of the schedule. They’ll play 14 of their next 18 games away from SAP Center, including two five-game trips.
San Jose has won just nine of its 17 games on the road this season.
If labeling a stretch of four wins in six games against the division a missed opportunity sounds harsh, that’s because it is. The division is, too.
It takes a run like Vegas had over the last two weeks, where the Golden Knights won all six of their games, to make a tangible move up the standings. The Sharks weren’t quite perfect, and the benefits of their last six games are far more subtle.
After all, history tells us the playoff teams are mostly set. 79 percent of the teams in playoff position on Thanksgiving have made the postseason since 2000, and we’re now two days away from the New Year.
Now, the focus shifts to teams jockeying for home ice. San Jose tightened their hold on the division’s final spot, but failed to move up any further.
A 6-0-0 run wouldn’t have done that on its own, but the Sharks would have been a point back of second (with three games in hand) and four back of first in the Pacific. Instead, they’re five and eight points back, respectively.
A not-quite-perfect six-game stint in the division was good enough for San Jose to cushion their lead over the teams chasing them. Not-quite-perfect now, though, just means they’ll have to be near-perfect later in order to improve their position in the standings.