The San Jose Sharks’ longest home losing streak in nearly 20 years has put their chances of qualifying for an 11th straight playoff berth in jeopardy.
Suddenly, the Ottawa Senators are giving their postseason hopes a boost with help from an unexpected source in net.
San Jose looks to avoid an eighth consecutive home defeat while preventing the Senators from winning a season-high fifth straight contest Saturday night.
The Sharks’ 10-year playoff run is the second-longest in the NHL to Detroit’s 23, but the Red Wings rallied for a 3-2 victory Thursday to deal San Jose (30-24-8) another blow in pursuit of extending its streak.
Matt Irwin and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who are on the verge of dropping eight straight at home for the first time since Feb. 18-March 26, 1995.
"It’s devastating. This time of the year, it’s unacceptable," Irwin said. "This is where we have to put points in the bank and set ourselves up for the stretch run. And to not get these points is extremely frustrating."
San Jose has dropped four of five overall and has 20 games left to jump Calgary and defending champion Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division. It also is battling the Flames and Minnesota for the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot.
The Sharks have dropped the first two in a stretch that has them playing eight of nine at home.
"It’s very troubling," coach Todd McLellan said of his club’s recent home woes. "I think the belief system is not as high as it needs to be. If you want to call that fragile I guess that possibly is. That’s not the way we’re going to win.
"We’ve got an Ottawa team coming in that has back-to-back shutouts. We have to find a way to get better."
The Sharks have won seven of the last eight meetings, but the Senators (26-23-10) have won four straight to give themselves some hope of catching Boston for the East’s second wild-card spot.
Rookie Andrew Hammond has been in net for each game during the winning streak because of injuries to Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. He’s posted a 0.75 goals-against average in that stretch after helping Ottawa win the first two of a five-game road trip.
Hammond made 25 saves in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Anaheim before stopping 35 shots to blank the Kings 1-0 the following night.
”It’s obviously pretty crazy what’s going on right now,” said the 27-year-old Hammond, who hadn’t made an NHL start until beating Montreal on Feb. 18. ”(Los Angeles is) one of the best teams in the league. It’s obviously a pretty cool feeling."
Mike Hoffman scored his team-best 21st goal for the Senators, who have outscored opponents 12-3 during their winning streak. They’re on the cusp of winning four straight on the road for the first time since the end of the 2013 season.
”It’s fun playing against teams that play hard like (the Kings),” defenseman Mark Borowiecki said. ”That felt like playoff hockey to me. (Hammond) has been our anchor back there."
Antti Niemi is 0-5-2 with a 3.55 GAA in the Sharks’ last seven at home, and it’s unclear if he’ll be net for this contest. He’s 2-1-0 with a 2.00 GAA in three career starts against the Senators.