SAN JOSE -- After grinding to get a win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday evening, the San Jose Sharks gained two more points in the standings and are once again tied with the Calgary Flames. San Jose and Calgary have been neck-and-neck for some time now, and as both teams roll through the final 20-plus games of the regular season, things are likely to remain that way.
For starters, both teams have similar schedules moving forward. Both San Jose and Calgary have 10 road games left on their schedules, and both finish up travel through the Eastern Conference by the end of February. San Jose is 16-12-3 on the road this season and holds an 11-9-4 record against Eastern Conference teams. Calgary is in a very similar boat, holding an 18-11-2 road record and having gone 13-6-4 against the Eastern Conference. Both the Sharks and the Flames spend the majority of the month of March in their home barns, where both have been quite dominant -- San Jose has gone 19-5-4 at SAP Center, while Calgary has gone 17-5-5 at the Saddledome.
Health will be a major factor in determing how each team does down the stretch. Flames’ forward James Neal took a beating last week, getting eight teeth knocked out against the Canucks and then sustaining an upper-body injury against the Panthers. While Neal hasn’t contributed much on the scoresheet this season, Calgary won’t want to lose any other players who bring playoff experience to the table. The Sharks, on the other hand, are coming off a nearly two-month stretch where they battled to fill in the holes created by injuries to their blue line. Now that they finally have Erik Karlsson back in the lineup after nearly a month, staying healthy through the end of February and into March would be a big help.
There’s an area where the Flames and Sharks are in drastically different positions, and that's in reference to the trade deadline. San jose isn’t expected to be very active ahead of the February 25 deadline, outside of perhaps picking up a rental player to fill out their bottom six. The Flames, on the other hand, are expected to be busy. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reports Calgary could be looking to pick up another forward at the trade deadline -- and if Neal is sidelined for any long stretch, that move may be more necessary -- or maybe pick up another defenseman. While adding a couple of pieces at the deadline likely won’t change the complexion of the entire team, Calgary could still get a potential boost if they make the right moves.
The Sharks and Flames play one more game against each other during the regular season, with the Sharks hosting that matchup on March 31. At that point, both teams will have just three games remaining before the postseason gets underway. Given how similar these teams are, don’t be surprised if the fight for first place comes down to the wire.