Programming note: Capitals-Sharks coverage starts Saturday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – The common notion among those closely monitoring the Pacific Division race is that finishing in first is of utmost importance. The three California teams have established themselves as the best in the division, and avoiding a first round clash with the Los Angeles Kings, it's thought, is no doubt the preference of the Sharks and the Ducks.
That external opinion doesn’t play in the Sharks’ dressing room. Or, if it does, no one will admit it.
“I think that’s the outside talking. I think in this room, it’s win the division, so we can get home ice advantage,” Logan Couture said. “I think that’s what we believe in here. Our goal is to get home ice advantage, and then see who we play.”
Todd McLellan called it a “waste of time and energy” to look ahead at potential playoff opponents with 11 games left in the regular season.
“Lesson number one, you never pick your opponent because all you do is get yourself in trouble,” said the head coach. “You take whoever is presented to you and you do the best you can against them, regardless of how they play or what they may throw at you.”
The Sharks and Ducks will finish as the top two teams in the Pacific, barring a miracle. According to SportsClubStats.com, Los Angeles has a 92 percent chance of ending up in the three hole, thereby playing the second seeded team in the Pacific.
The 2012 Stanley Cup champs would be a tough matchup at any point in the postseason, but the Sharks would likely rather see the Kings and Ducks beat each other up in what would surely be a physically taxing series, and then take on the winner, beginning at The Tank. That would leave San Jose a more preferable meeting with Phoenix, Minnesota or Dallas in the first round.
But, again, that’s not something anyone in the Sharks’ room would ever say publically. Actually, Marc-Edouard Vlasic went an entirely different route.
“You don’t want to try to avoid anybody. If you do that, then you end up not in a matchup you want,” Vlasic said. “I’d love to play the Kings the first round. They beat us last year, so we have something to prove … LA was the eighth seed when they came in and beat everybody easily (in 2012). To me, it doesn’t matter where you finish. As long as you play together, and when you’re going into the playoffs, everybody’s playing the right way.”
The Sharks can officially clinch a playoff spot on Saturday, but even if they don’t, that will happen some time early next week. It’s a change from the past two seasons, when the playoffs were not a certainty until much later in the regular season.
In a perfect world, they would wrap up the division with a few games to go, and maybe get a chance to rest some key guys before the postseason if they are not in the race for the President’s Trophy or top spot in the Western Conference.
That, too, is looking a bit too far ahead, according to McLellan. He just hopes his team finishes as high in the overall league standings as possible, and that it doesn’t let up after Thursday’s enormous 3-2 win over Anaheim. Home ice, where the Sharks are 26-5-4, is vital.
“I think we have to continue with the ‘let’s go’ approach. Let’s push our game. Let’s get going,” McLellan said.
“St. Louis isn’t an easy place to play, Colorado is not an easy place to play, Chicago is not an easy place to play. … We want to put ourselves in the best situation possible for a long run. Will that happen? I don’t know. That’s the goal, that’s what we want. We need to keep competing with those other teams, as well.”