The seemingly comfortable lead the Anaheim Ducks held 2 1/2 weeks ago in the Pacific Division has disappeared completely, along with their advantage atop the Western Conference standings.
Anaheim’s slump has allowed San Jose to tie for the division lead, though the Sharks missed a prime opportunity to take sole possession of first place in their latest game.
The Sharks look to win a fifth straight home meeting with the Ducks in Thursday night’s showdown for the Pacific lead.
After both teams won March 2, Anaheim (45-17-7) led San Jose (45-18-7) by seven points and held a three-point edge atop the West. The Ducks have gone 2-3-2 since, falling 3-2 to Washington on Tuesday.
”You can make a million and one excuses, but we’re just not getting the job done," coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The Sharks went on a six-game winning streak to catch the Ducks and had a chance to take over the division lead Tuesday at home against Florida. Martin Havlat and Brent Burns scored, but San Jose fell 3-2 despite putting 54 shots on Robert Luongo.
Though the Sharks have one of the best home winning percentages in the NHL, four of their nine total defeats at home have come to the bottom four teams in the East – Carolina, the New York Islanders, the Panthers and Buffalo.
”We’ve talked about this lesson a lot of times this year already with teams that are maybe not in the playoffs and we keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” coach Todd McLellan said. ”Until we fix that, we’ll probably end up with the same results.”
The Ducks likely will prove to be an even tougher opponent, and both teams will have to regroup if they want to have any chance of earning the top playoff seed in the conference. NHL-leading St. Louis is threatening to run away with the West down the stretch.
San Jose went 1 for 6 on the power play Tuesday and is 4 for 65 with the man advantage over its last 20 games – the lowest conversion percentage (6.2) in the league in that stretch.
”It’s not good enough, simple as that,” forward Logan Couture said. ”It’s on us, the players who go out there and play the big power-play minutes, myself included. It needs to be better. It needs to help win us games.”
Anaheim has been even worse on the power play over its last six, failing to convert on its past 22 chances after going 0 for 6 against the Capitals. The Ducks also have allowed at least one power-play goal in each game in that stretch.
"That game (Tuesday) came down to our special teams not being special," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "They were able to get very easy goals on their power play, and that was the difference in the game."
The Sharks took the first two meetings with the Ducks at home before Anaheim won 6-3 on Dec. 31 behind a goal and two assists from Ryan Getzlaf. Antti Niemi was pulled after giving up five goals through 41 1/2 minutes, ending his four-start winning streak in the series.
Niemi won five straight starts with a 1.60 goals-against average before falling to Florida, and he could be in net for this contest.
The Ducks are likely to counter with Jonas Hiller, 1-2-2 with a 3.46 GAA in his last five starts. He made 33 saves in the last meeting to end a three-start skid against the Sharks.