Sharks

Sharks

​Editor's note: This article was originally published before the Oilers-Flames game Tuesday night. It has since been updated to reflect the final score of that game. 

On paper, the Sharks’ upcoming three-game road trip seems like the easiest stretch left this season. Each opponent -- the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks -- is on the outside looking in to the playoff picture, and the Sharks are a combined 7-1-1 against them.

But potential pitfalls await in each stop, and if the Sharks falter, their postseason pursuit will surely be affected. Each opponent has the potential to trip up San Jose, so let’s examine just how they could.

The McDavid Show

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, Edmonton is a mismanaged mess that will only have one trip to the second round to show for Connor McDavid’s entry-level contract. Even with a three-game winning streak that was snapped Tuesday, the Oilers are only 8-11-1 since the All-Star break. 

But as long as McDavid is, well, Connor McDavid, Edmonton can hang with the best. And boy, has he been Connor McDavid lately.

In 20 games since the break, he has scored at nearly a goal-per-game rate (18 goals), and added 12 more assists. McDavid’s been held off the scoresheet in just three games, and all but one was an Edmonton loss.

In all, the Oilers are 27-19-2 when McDavid scores at least a point this year, and 3-16-2 when he doesn’t. The Sharks will likely avoid a letdown in Edmonton if they can keep him off the scoresheet, but that’s easier said than done.

 

Too Little, Too Late?

Even with a win in Tuesday night’s Battle of Alberta, the Flames are going to be desperate against the Sharks on Friday. They trail the last Wild Card and the last spot in the Pacific Division by two points after Tuesday's win, but the teams Calgary is chasing -- Dallas and Los Angeles -- each have a game in hand. 

The Flames will have to jump Anaheim, which also has a game in hand. So, a loss to San Jose could mean the end of Calgary's postseason hopes.

The Sharks have plenty to play for, too, but their season isn’t quite yet on the line. The power play has also cooled substantially since beating Calgary twice in December, which was the difference in those two wins.

Plus, only two teams have controlled a higher share of five-on-five shot attempts (55.11 percent, per Natural Stat Trick) and unblocked shot attempts (54.24 percent) over its last 25 games than Calgary. Mike Smith, who owns a .940 save percentage against the Sharks, is now healthy. He shut out the Oilers on Tuesday, and the Flames getting goaltending to match their possession prowess is a scary proposition.

The Trap Game

The Sharks’ last matchup against the Not-Yet-Official Seattle Franchise’s soon-to-be biggest rival has major letdown potential. The lottery-bound Canucks have lost four games in a row (and seven of eight) as of Wednesday, Calder Trophy contender Brock Boeser is likely out for the remainder of the season, and it’s the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday.

They’re 3-0-1 against Vancouver this season, but they’ve arguably been outplayed. Adjusting for score and venue effects, the Sharks have controlled just 47.69 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, 44.73 percent of the unblocked attempts, and 48.08 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Despite that, they’ve outscored the Canucks 8-5 in five-on-five play. That discrepancy seems like a good reflection of the talent discrepancies between San Jose and Vancouver, which only get larger with Boeser on the shelf.

Still, Monday’s win over Detroit was yet another example of how tenuous those wins can be. If the Sharks’ finishing falters and their possession game doesn’t improve, they’ll be in for a late-season letdown.