The Sharks are in the midst of one of their toughest stretches of the season. Dating back to Saturday, they'll play eight games in 13 nights ahead of the All-Star break.
As it stands right now, six of those eight games are against teams within two points of a playoff spot. San Jose will end up playing Arizona, the only team that isn't, twice after they complete a back-to-back in the desert on Tuesday.
The first half of that begins with a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee against the Los Angeles Kings, whom the Sharks have a real opportunity to finally catch in the standings over the next two weeks.
San Jose currently has two games in hand on their in-state rivals, but trails them by three points for the Pacific Division's final playoff spot. By the break, they will only have one game in hand on the Kings, and zero by Feb. 2.
Until then, the Sharks have some control their own destiny, beginning with Monday's matchup. If they win on Monday, as well as their two games in hand, they can leapfrog the Kings in the standings, and could even surpass the red-hot Flames to grab hold of home ice advantage in the first round.
After the break, however, any standings movement will be largely out of San Jose's hands. The scheduling quirks and bye weeks from the first half of the season will have evened out, and if the Sharks can't catch the Kings or Flames before the break, they'd need them to struggle in order to do so after.
This stretch of eight-in-13, then, is where the rubber hits the proverbial road. Or, if you'd prefer, where the steel hits the proverbial ice.
Of course, that also means the Sharks will have to improve their play quickly. Since Dec. 14, San Jose is just 6-3-3, and has only scored 1.96 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play over that span, according to Natural Stat Trick.
That's the sixth-lowest rate in the league since, but what's made matters worse for the normally low-scoring Sharks is that they've allowed 2.79 five-on-five goals per 60 minutes as well, the seventh-most since Dec. 14.
The power play, converting at a 30.2 percent clip, has been the league's second-best since mid-December and is largely keeping the Sharks afloat, even as their even strength game and penalty kill (77.1 percent since Dec. 14, 20th in the NHL).
In other words, the Sharks are in desperate need of a turnaround. Fortunately for San Jose, there's no better time than the present.