The San Jose Sharks enter the second half of the season with one of the best records in the NHL - and plenty of room for improvement.
The Sharks hope to get their run for the postseason started on a high note on Tuesday when they visit the Edmonton Oilers.
San Jose (27-15-7) is tied with Dallas atop the Pacific Division and for the third-best record in the league. Only Detroit and Ottawa have better records in the NHL, and the Sharks have played four fewer games than both the Stars and the Ducks, who are one point behind in the Pacific.
But the Sharks know they have plenty to work on before the playoffs start.
“I think we all realize we’re not even close to playing the way we want to,” defenseman Craig Rivet said. “We’ve got much more work to do in the next three months or so before the playoffs. We’ve got a lot to get done.”
San Jose has struggled on offense all season, and is tied with Boston for 20th with just 2.59 goals per game. The Sharks have also had trouble winning at home, and are tied with four other teams for 24th in the NHL win 11 wins on their own ice.
However, the Sharks have made up for their struggles at home with 35 points on the road, third-most in the NHL. And their defense is tied with New Jersey for third in the league with 2.33 goals allowed per contest.
Evgeni Nabokov leads the league with 27 wins and owns a career-low 2.16 goals-against average. He turned aside all eight shots he faced the West’s 8-7 loss to the East in Sunday’s All-Star Game.
“We’re just taking steps every week to improve for the playoffs,” defenseman Kyle McLaren said. “All this work we’re doing at this point in the season is about giving us a chance to succeed in the spring. That’s why you can’t get too up or too down about what’s going on in January.”
The Sharks beat St. Louis 4-1 on Thursday in its last game before the All-Star break. Jonathan Cheechoo scored twice for his first multigoal game since April 1.
Cheechoo led the Sharks with 37 goals in 2006-07 but has just nine so far this season.
“Cheech has been looking good lately and getting stronger. It’s only a matter of time before a guy like that breaks out of it,” said Joe Thornton, who had three assists and is tied for first place in the NHL with 45.
Patrick Marleau picked up an assist for the third straight game, but has just eight goals after getting at least 32 in each of his last two seasons. Marleau has 17 goals in 38 career games against the Oilers (23-24-5), his second-most against any NHL team.
The Sharks are hoping to get their offense going against Edmonton, which is ranks 24th in the league with 2.98 goals allowed per game.
The Oilers lost four of six heading into the break, but won 4-3 in a shootout in Florida on Thursday. The Oilers’ 12 shootout victories are as twice as many as any other team in the league and make up more than half their win total .
“It was a miraculous win,” coach Craig MacTavish said. “I’m not saying we didn’t deserve the result, but the way that it happened was a long shot.”