The San Jose Sharks can’t afford to squander too many more chances if they want the top seed in the Western Conference.
Losses such as the one they suffered their last time out could cost them the Pacific Division title as well.
The Sharks look to bounce back from a disheartening defeat when they take on a Colorado Avalanche team looking to continue its push for second place in the Central on Saturday.
San Jose (47-19-9) has gone 2-2-2 since a six-game winning streak that vaulted it into the race for first place in the West as well as the Presidents’ Trophy. It lost 4-3 at home to Winnipeg on Thursday, allowing the winning goal with 3:36 remaining.
All six of the Sharks’ defeats since the Olympic break have come against teams that would not be in the playoffs if the season ended now.
"We’ve let some teams that are not as good in the standings beat us and take points away, for whatever reason I’m not sure," captain Joe Thornton said.
The Sharks are four points behind NHL-leading St. Louis and also locked in a tight battle for the Pacific title with Anaheim, which went into Friday’s action with three games in hand.
"We can’t give away points," forward Joe Pavelski said. "We’ve given away a few too many lately. They got the games in hand. If they do their job they’ll be there but there’s still quite a bit of hockey left."
San Jose certainly didn’t lose Thursday because of its power play, which went 2 for 4 to give it a 5 for 7 mark in the past two games. The Sharks, however, have scored three or fewer goals in six of the last seven contests.
They also allowed the Jets to go 2 for 5 with the man advantage. San Jose had killed off 24 of 25 power plays in the previous 10 games and its 84.5 penalty killing percentage is in the top 10 in the league.
While San Jose has hit a rut, Colorado (46-21-6) appears to be climbing out of one. The Avalanche have won two straight since a three-game skid, defeating visiting Vancouver 3-2 in overtime Thursday to snap the Canucks’ three-game winning streak.
Defenseman Tyson Barrie scored in the extra period for Colorado, which is all but certain to make its first playoff appearance in four years. The longer-term focus for the Avs is catching the Blackhawks for the second spot in the division.
"We want to finish as high as possible," said forward Matt Duchene, who set up Barrie’s winner and also scored a goal. "We aren’t giving anybody a break coming in."
Colorado, which avoided a third straight home loss, beat San Jose 4-3 in the only matchup in Denver this season Jan. 4 to extend its home win streak in the series to three. The Sharks won the first meeting 5-4 in a shootout Dec. 23.
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon scored twice in the January matchup and also had a goal in the first meeting.
Duchene has six goals and 16 assists in his last 16 games, while teammate Gabriel Landeskog has three goals and an assist in his past two.
Thornton has a 12-game point streak against the Avs, recording two goals and 15 assists. Patrick Marleau had a goal and two assists Jan. 4 to give him eight goals and four assists in the past nine against Colorado.
San Jose’s Antti Niemi was pulled from the latest matchup with the Avs after allowing three goals on 14 shots. He’s given up 10 goals in his last three in the series.