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.
|28-7-5, 61 points
||24-8-6, 54 points|
|1st in Pacific
||2nd in Pacific