For Team Teal, it’s 26 games in 49 nights to determine their lot in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Right now the Sharks are on the outside looking in, but there is one caveat and that is that they still control their own destiny.
For the moment, the last three teams holding on to a Western Conference playoff spot lead the Sharks by eight (Colorado), seven (Los Angeles) and six points (Edmonton). However, those leads may not look as formidable upon further review. Colorado has played three more games than San Jose, meaning the Sharks could close the gap to two with a home and road contest left against their playoff rival.
With Los Angeles, the seven point deficit can more than be made up for with games in hand. The Kings have played four more contests than the Sharks. Thus, if Team Teal can make up the difference in the games in hand, the Sharks would actually lead the Kings by a point. Not to mention the three head-to-head contests between the Pacific Division rivals.
As for the Oilers, their games played gap on the Sharks is just two, but two victories in those additional games would pull Team Teal within two of the Oilers with a home and road contest left before the regular season concludes.
San Jose still must deal with two other clubs sitting in front of them chasing a playoff spot. Anaheim is up three points, but the Sharks have two games in hand. Minnesota is up one point and the Sharks have three games in hand.
Those “extra” games won’t come all at once, so it’s not like any expect the Sharks to close the gap in the next four games.
“I know what the schedule is. I’m not going to make any predictions as to how many points or how many wins we need to make the playoffs,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “I believe it’s going to come down to the last week. Simple.”
None of this will matter if the Sharks don’t play the kind of hockey they are capable of. However, the good news for Sharks fans is they have been playing the type of hockey they are capable of.
San Jose is 19-9-4, good for 42 of 68 possible points, since December 1. They even went into the break riding a three-game winning streak.
Despite the positives, the Sharks still have a bit to work on, especially when down a man.
“For us, we need to make sure we keep improving on our penalty kill,” said Wilson. “Our best players obviously have to play at their best. We just have to play well. We have to keep doing the things we’ve been doing. Other than making sure our penalty killing doesn’t slip, I don’t think there are any more keys than that.”
Still, even the penalty killing was improved prior to the break.
“We didn’t allow one power play goal against in our last three games,” said Jonathan Cheechoo.
With each passing contest, the margin for error will get smaller and smaller, but if the Sharks play to their potential, they’ll be playing more than the 26 games remaining on their schedule.