Maple Leafs-Sharks Preview
A tight division is keeping the panic button out of reach for the San Jose Sharks.
However, more than a month of mostly negative results is becoming difficult to pass off with a second straight season out of the playoffs after 10 in them emerging as a distinct possibility.
Still searching for their first win of 2016, they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night hoping to improve a dismal home record.
The Sharks (18-18-2) are 4-9-2 since the start of December after Thursday's 2-1 loss to Detroit. The defeat was their third in four games on a five-game homestand and dropped them to an NHL-worst 5-12-0 at home, with a league-low 38 goals.
They've been limited to 13 goals in going 1-6-0 in their last seven in San Jose.
Joel Ward scored Thursday's first-period equalizer and nearly had another goal just before the Red Wings got the third-period winner.
"It's definitely frustrating. You get a good chance on one end and the next thing you know they come down and score," said Ward, who scored for the first time in 10 games.
Brett Burns assisted and has 12 points in his last eight games after extending his point streak to a season-best five, but San Jose has been limited to a goal in each of the last two. That's made things more difficult on Martin Jones, who's been in goal for the entire homestand.
Jones has gone 3-3-1 with a 3.43 goals-against average in his last seven starts. The third-year player, who went 11-5-0 with a 2.02 mark and three shutouts in his first 17 games for the Sharks through Nov. 21, is 3-0-0 with a 1.65 GAA against Toronto.
"I thought we played a pretty good game, just needed a bit more," Jones said.
They've had that against the Maple Leafs. The Sharks have won the last six meetings - outscoring Toronto 24-11 - and 10 of 11. San Jose is 13-8-0 against the Eastern Conference, but Toronto is 11-6-1 against the West.
The Leafs' latest such game, though, was Thursday's 2-1 defeat at Los Angeles that snapped a three-game winning streak. Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs (16-16-7) have been going in the opposite direction of San Jose with an 8-3-2 surge, during which they've averaged 3.46 goals.
Peter Holland scored for the second time in three games, and coach Mike Babcock wasn't displeased after opening the three-game trip with a 4-0 win over Anaheim the night before.
"I like our preparation. I like the way we get ready," said Babcock, whose team has won five of seven on the road with 13 goals allowed. "Today we knew the first 10 minutes was going to be hard for us, and in the end we were still right there and gave ourselves a chance."
That's started in the defensive zone with the Maple Leafs giving up five goals in the 3-1-0 span. Jonathan Bernier's covered most of that in goal and will start after James Reimer returned from a groin injury against the Kings.
Bernier has won his last three starts with a 0.97 GAA, including a 39-save shutout of the Ducks. After starting the season 0-8-3 with a 3.46 GAA, he's gone 6-2-0 with a 2.21 mark.
Bernier is 1-3-1 with a 3.66 GAA in six games against the Sharks.