Nearing Halfway Point, Sharks on Outside Looking in at Cup Contenders

The San Jose Sharks enter their NHL-mandated, five day break one game short of the season's halfway mark, but they should nonetheless begin the bye with a sense of clarity.

As it stands, the Sharks are a flawed team that, without things going their way down the stretch, is on the outside looking in at the Stanley Cup picture. Those flaws were on full display Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg.

A goaltender interference penalty against Chris Tierney late in the second period undoubtedly turned the tide in the Jets' favor, but the Sharks only held a slight edge in five-on-five shot attempts (33-31) at the time. Winnipeg led 2-1 when Tierney went to the box, but the lead was befitting of a close game.

San Jose only trailed by one before Tierney's penalty because Logan Couture scored on a power play. The Sharks, once again struggled to score at even strength.

That's been cause for concern all season, but especially of late. Since December 7, San Jose's scored 40.9 percent of its goals on the power play, as the Bay Area News Group's Paul Gackle pointed out on Sunday.

The Sharks were once again unable to translate control of the puck into goals, but they were doubly doomed by defensive miscues. For the third time on their five-game trip, San Jose allowed at least three non-empty net goals.

That was also the sixth time in their last 10 games, and the normally-staunch Sharks are just 4-3-3 over that span. They've only scored 27 goals during that stretch, and the calculus is clear: the Sharks won't win much if they aren't at their best defensively.

The same can be said about plenty of teams around the league, of course, but San Jose's five-on-five scoring woes make them far more reliant on defense and goaltending. They don't have an offense good enough to consistently overcome a poor defensive showing.

The power play has kept them afloat this season, but that won't be a reliable strategy in the postseason, when the games tighten and officials tend to swallow their whistles. Even if the power play continues to operate at peak efficiency, they simply won't have as many opportunities in the playoffs.

In order to emerge as a true contender, the Sharks will need a lot to fall their way in the second half. A combination of key players (like Joe Pavelski) regressing to the mean, outside scoring help acquired at the trade deadline, and the teams above them in the standings faltering can propel San Jose back into the Stanley Cup conversation.

You just shouldn't necessarily hold your breath.

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