LOS ANGELES -- With one game left in the regular season, the Sharks can still finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the Western Conference.
Overall parity and an abbreviated 48-game season helps keep the race tight. But so do the inconsistencies that can haunt any team. Take the Sharks and their penalty kill.
While the team stayed away from the rink Thursday, there's a good chance a segment of Friday afternoon's practice session -- either on the ice or off it -- will focus on a penalty kill that has slipped the past two weeks after being a strength most of the season.
San Jose has met its goal of improving its short-handed performance after finishing 29th in the NHL last season. With an 84.9 percent success rate, the Sharks are now sixth in the league.
But the Sharks have given up a power play goal in six of the last seven games in which the opposition went on the power play. And their 75 percent success rate over that stretch is just below their rate of 76.9 percent a year ago.
"There's concern any time that you go on a streak that has a negative angle to it," coach Todd McLellan said, "but you also have your ups and downs over a year. Lately we have been scored on so we've got to clean that up going into the playoffs, there's no doubt about it."
The Sharks have been managed to go 4-3 in those seven games, but it was a Coyote power play goal that proved the difference in Wednesday night's 2-1 loss to the Phoenix.
Even so, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic noted, that goal came when a shot from the blue line changed direction after deflecting off a San Jose player.
"Not that teams can't score on us, but you're doing such a good job that for teams to score, the goal has to go off your skate and in," Vlasic said in defense of the penalty killers. "If that's what it takes, you're doing something right."
The only Shark whose name comes up consistently is Antti Niemi, who is considered a legitimate contender for the Vezina given annually to the league's best goaltender.
But a case could be made for Logan Couture as a candidate for both the Selke given to the top defensive forward and the Lady Byng given to the player who typifies "sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior."
Couture, for example, leads all Western Conference forwards with 51 blocked shots and has earned praise for his defensive work this season as well as for his 20 goals and 36 points. Combine those points with only four penalty minutes, and you also have a candidate for the Lady Byng.
Coaches don't vote on those two awards, hockey writers do. Still, McLellan backed his player's candidacy.
"He would have my vote for either or," McLellan said. "There's no doubt about it."