After tonight, there is no reason why the Sharks could not make a push into the playoffs. Sure, the division has many competitive teams, but none are taking control of their destiny. The Canucks lost to an outdated Minnesota roster, and to make things worse, Pettersson missed the game due to a lower body injury. Jay Beagle and Jake Virtanen were injured as well, but came back after missing a hand full of shifts. Another minor loss came to the Canucks at the blue line when Marcus Foligno ran over Oscar Fantenberg in the second period, causing him to miss the remainder of the game. Luckily for the Canucks, they do have Jordie Benn available to fill the void. However, if any of these players are hurt long-term, the Canucks are in trouble considering the fact that they are already missing Tyler Motte, Michael Ferland and Josh Leivo.
The Flames were also on the losing side of their game, falling to the Predators in a far more competitive game. Losing this game is not surprising as their top defenceman Mark Giordano is currently out with injury, but every loss at this stage of the season is magnified. The team could be some trouble, considering they recently came out of a very difficult week with two very physical games against Edmonton. The Flames have a lot of games coming up against divisional teams, albeit mostly California teams. These games are must-win, but they are all heavy rosters who will test the undersized and undermanned Flames.
One vital game for both the Sharks and Oilers occurred tonight, as the two divisional rivals faced off. Despite missing both Couture and Hertl, the Sharks downed the Oilers without much difficulty. As per usual, Mcdavid looked fantastic. However, one concerning point to address was the miserable effort shown by Leon Draistitl. He went minus three with only 1 shot in the entire game and failed to produce much of anything offensively. Splitting these two dynamic forwards is used from time to time, but clearly the offensive depth in Edmonton leaves these two superstars with little help on the wings. If they cannot find a way to keep Leon AND McDavid producing at a high level, the team simply has no chance to make a run down the stretch.
On the other hand, the Sharks climb to within 8 points of the Flames, who hold the final wild card spot in the West despite being fifth in the Pacific. Sure, the odds of San Jose making the playoffs is extremely low, roughly 5%, but they can make things interesting. One major reason for this falls onto the shoulders of the Coyotes, who only have 2 wins in their last ten games. They hold a substantial nine point lead on San Jose, but if they cannot turn things around, they will fall into the fifth spot very quickly and the Sharks will be pushing hard as their veteran core does not take kindly to missing the playoffs.
The one bright spot in the Pacific tonight was an absolutely dominant performance by the Vegas Golden Knights, stomping the Panthers 7-2, scoring 4 in the final twenty minutes. Not only was this a dominant performance, it was done so without their top centerman, William Karlsson. When Karlsson is in the lineup, Vegas possesses two of the very best lines in hockey. Players like Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty have experience playing in these big games late in the season and I see no reason why they cannot secure a top three position in the Pacific.
When it's all said and done, I believe the Knights will take the top spot, followed closely by the Oilers and Canucks. After that, there is no telling what will happen down the stretch and I anticipate some very exciting games to finish the year.