Sharks vs. Ducks: Home-and-home could make or break division title chances

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

2nd-place San Jose concludes the calendar year with a home-and-home series against 1st-place Anaheim that has major implications for how the Pacific Division will shake out.

The last time the Sharks faced the Ducks, San Jose won in a shootout to create a one-point cushion atop the Pacific Division standings. They'll begin tonight's game, the first of a home-and-home series that wraps up the calendar year, seven points behind division-leading Anaheim. Ten wins in a row for the Ducks coupled with a few speed bumps for the Sharks will do that and while sweeping this two-game series won't pull the second-place Sharks even with 1st-place Anaheim, it will close the gap a bit and represents more or less a necessity if San Jose has division title aspirations. Which they should, given that it would secure them home-ice advantage throughout the divisional playoff round, a good thing considering the disparity between their home and road performance over the past two seasons.

Anaheim is healthier than it was the last time these teams met. Jakob Silfverberg, a quick two-way winger with a heavy, heavy shot acquired from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan deal, has returned to the lineup after missing 24 games with a hand injury. More importantly, the Ducks' top defenseman Francois Beauchemin is back after missing ten games of his own. This is a deeper Ducks team both up front and on the blueline than the Sharks faced not only in late November but in the past several seasons. San Jose will have a tough time contending with that if their bottom six lays another egg. They'll need to utilize the weapons at their disposal to form at least three competent forward lines and it appears that's exactly what they plan to do after Todd McLellan tinkered with line combinations during yesterday's practice.

It feels strange to refer to games in December as the biggest of the Sharks' season but dropping both of these would likely drive a stake through the heart of their division title chances before the second half even begins. At the very least, they need a split here.

Anaheim Ducks

@

San Jose Sharks
28-7-5, 61 points
24-8-6, 54 points
1st in Pacific
2nd in Pacific

7:30PM PST | SAP Center | San Jose, California
TV: CSNCA-HD | Radio: SJSharks.com, 98.5 KFOX
Know Your Enemy: Anaheim Calling, Battle Of California

Projected Sharks Lineup

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
James Sheppard - Tyler Kennedy - Tommy Wingels
Bracken Kearns - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Alex Stalock

Projected Ducks Lineup

Dustin Penner - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey - Mathieu Perreault - Jakob Silfverberg
Andrew Cogliano - Saku Koivu - Daniel Winnik
Patrick Maroon - Nick Bonino - Kyle Palmieri

Hampus Lindholm - Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler - Ben Lovejoy
Bryan Allen - Sami Vatanen

Frederik Andersen
Jonas Hiller

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