SAN JOSE – Buried in the Western Conference standings, the Sharks have a near-impossible task ahead of them if they want to snap a three-year playoff drought this season.
So coach David Quinn’s plan is to make the job seem a bit more bite-sized, at least in the short term.
“Let’s play this as a five-game season,” Quinn said earlier this week. “You’re going to carry that feeling through four days of a break, and we (can) keep chipping away and getting out of that (0-5-0) hole that we started in.”
The Sharks won the first of the five-game series Tuesday, beating the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 as Tomas Hertl, Nick Bonino, and Nico Sturm all scored and goalie James Reimer, making his first start in over two weeks, made 19 saves as the Sharks improved to 10-16-5.
Before their Christmas break that starts Dec. 23, the Sharks play at Los Angeles against the Kings on Saturday, then host the Calgary Flames on Sunday and Tuesday, and the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 22.
The Sharks are behind all of those teams in the standings as they entered Wednesday in seventh place in the Pacific Division and in 14th place in the Western Conference with a .403 points percentage.
Moneypuck.com has the Sharks’ chances of making the playoffs at 36.7 percent. Other sites are far less bullish, with Hockey-Reference.com and The Athletic putting the Sharks’ chances at 5.6 percent and less than 1 percent, respectively.
Still, the Sharks want to use these games as motivation to help finish the pre-Christmas schedule on a positive note. The Sharks in recent days have collected five of a possible six points after they lost to the Vancouver Canucks in overtime on Dec. 7 and beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-1 last Friday.
“Anytime you can find a little a little extra competition or edge into your game, I think you want to take advantage of it,” Reimer said. “We’ve got a break coming up here where everyone will get a chance to kind of mentally reset for a little bit, and if you can go into the break with some momentum, that’s nice too.
“We have a couple of games here and most of them are at home, so you want to take advantage, take care of business and go into that break feeling good and seeing what happens.”
If 95 points will be the cutoff to make the Western Conference playoffs, the Sharks will need to play at about a .660 points percentage for the rest of the season, winning roughly two of every three games.
Considering the team will likely be sellers prior to the March 3 trade deadline, making the playoffs is far-fetched, at best. It’s also one that’s detrimental to the long-term goals of the organization – taking a step back now to draft a franchise-altering type player next year and get better down the road.
But the Sharks players and coaches aren’t throwing in the towel just yet, and, for now, are approaching things in smaller chunks instead of one big hill to climb.
“It’s tough to look at the standings because I think we’ve played and deserve so much better than where we are,” Bonino said. “I think we’re in every game. There hasn’t been a game where we’ve walked away saying there was zero chance in that game.
“We’re at the point in the year where obviously moral victories don’t really matter. We’ve been together long enough, we need to get two points and we got five out of six in this little (stretch). That’s huge for us and go on the road for a day and try to beat L.A.”
The Sharks’ biggest reason for optimism is their offense. Starting with a 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 27, the Sharks, in 22 games, have averaged 3.55 goals, tied for ninth in the NHL in that time.
Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, and Logan Couture have all been in the league’s top 45 in points since the win over the Leafs.
The problem is that the Sharks have also allowed an average of 3.73 goals against, the sixth-worst in the NHL, as they’ve stumbled to an 8-9-5 record in that time. San Jose’s numerous decision-making and puck management gaffes, plus some shaky goaltending, have been the biggest issues.
Quinn felt the Sharks have limited those types of miscues in their last two games, albeit against weaker competition. The challenge now is to keep that going against better teams, like the ones they’ll face before they begin their Christmas break.
“To put ourselves in a position to win hockey games,” Quinn said, “I think we’ve really demonstrated the things we’re going to need to do moving forward.”