The unthinkable has happened: the Flames are no longer in first place in the Pacific Division. A four-game losing streak, combined with a Sharks four-game winning streak, has seen San Jose overtake top spot in the division – by all of one point.
Both teams have 14 games left in the season. At this stage, they’re competing with one another for division placement, barring a major Golden Knights surge and collapse on their own parts. The prize? Avoiding a tough divisional first round matchup, and, in theory, securing a less laborious pass through the playoffs. Let’s see how it breaks down.
|Flames opponent||Opp P%||Sharks opponent||Opp P%|
|Blue Jackets||.581||Golden Knights||.587|
|Average opp P%||.501||.527|
For all of the Flames’ present woes, they still have the easier schedule. In the NHL, it isn’t too difficult to be a .500 team – thanks, loser point – as only eight teams this season presently have a points percentage under .500. And yet, the Flames’ opponents, all together, only just barely pass the .500 mark. The Sharks have some weaker opponents to come, too, but not as many as the Flames.
Let’s do an extremely rough forecasting: say both the Flames and Sharks defeat each team with a points percentage under .500, but only win half of their remaining games against teams .500 and above.
Eight of the Flames’ remaining 14 opponents have a points percentage under .500, while the Sharks have six. This rough forecasting would see the Flames end the season with 111 points, and for the Sharks, 110.
In other words: it could be a very tight finish to the end of the season. The Flames do have the advantage, schedule-wise, but they’ll need to get back into gear as soon as possible. Maybe the realization of just how close the Sharks are to them in the standings – they’ve seen their divisional lead completely evaporate over the past week – will help in achieving that.
There’s one game, though, that the rough forecasting doesn’t properly account for: March 31, when, in both teams’ fourth final game of the regular season, the Flames and Sharks will face off against one another. If both teams can keep pace, then that game could decide who wins the Pacific Division. Let’s also note that, at this time, the Flames and Sharks are pretty much dead even in tiebreakers: they both have 41 regulation or overtime wins (neither team has won a shootout this season); the Flames have a +39 goal differential whereas the Sharks are at +36; and, if the Flames defeat the Sharks in regulation, they’ll be tied with four points apiece claimed from the other team, dead even in the season series.
Should the race come right down to the wire, then Game 82 for both teams will be on April 6. The Flames game starts at 8:00 p.m. MT; the Sharks at 8:30 p.m. MT.
Four weeks left – and it’s as close as it’s ever been.