The Anaheim Ducks are running away with the Pacific Division.
When the Sharks take to the ice in Washington on Tuesday, they will be a full 13 points behind the Ducks in the standings, with two games in hand.
[RELATED: NHL standings]
If the Sharks want any chance at winning their first division title since 2011, getting more wins on the road, where they are 12-10-3, is essential. A three-game road trip continues on to Florida and Tampa Bay after Tuesday’s meeting with the Capitals.
“All the points are important, especially right now when you see some teams pulling away,” Joe Pavelski told CSN Mid-Atlantic on Monday, after the Sharks practiced at Verizon Center. “We need to keep pace with them and get the points when you can, and this road trip can go a long way for us.”
Dan Boyle said: “We’ve had recent struggles on the road. We’re all trying to figure out why. There are different things that have been costing us on different nights.”
The Capitals are just 3-3-4 in their last 10 games, but 2-0-1 in their last three. Superstar Alex Ovechkin, who still leads the NHL with 32 goals, has just two in his last nine games.
The Sharks would like to extend his recent frustrations for at least one more night, but Boyle cautioned against focusing too much on one guy, even if it is the best goal-scorer in the world.
Special teams will play a bigger role, according to the defenseman.
“Everybody knows who Ovechkin is but there’s more to them than that,” he said. “They’ve got the best power play in the league (25.2 percent, 2nd overall) and they love to play offense. Good power plays find a way. … Guys have to be in shooting lanes to block shots and get in shooting lanes.”
Joe Thornton said: “They have a high-powered offense, very dangerous offensive players and good on the power play, so we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box.”
San Jose leads the league in power play opportunities (178), and has been shorthanded fewer than any team in the league (120). Their 93 minute and 38 second discrepancy in power play time over penalty kill time reflects that, and in 46 games, the Sharks have been shorthanded more than they’ve been on the power play just four times. That includes the game against Boston, where they had just one power play and failed to convert in losing, 1-0. The Bruins were 0-for-3.
The Sharks also remain without injured forwards like Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, among others, so getting at least a goal a night on their power play will continue to be important for an offense that basically has just two scoring lines, at best, during even strength play. Without Couture, the Sharks have lost two of three games.
“Our team is trying right now to fight through an injury bug,” Todd McLellan said. “We’ve got some players who are taking on more now than they normally would be, which is great experience for them. But, we still have to fight our way through this and get things done.”
After their current trip concludes, the Sharks will have eight of their final 10 games before the Olympic break at home. Getting some points this week could go a long way in closing the gap on Anaheim, considering the Sharks are 16-2-3 at SAP Center.
“Our record can be better on the road, and I don’t think it has anything to do with travel. It’s our play,” McLellan said. “Yes, we’ve played back-to-back, yes, we’ve traveled to umpteen different time zones, but we’re used to that. … We don’t use that as an excuse.”