Programming note: Coverage of Sharks-Ducks begins at 6:30 on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live.
SAN JOSE – Still clinging to a playoff position by the slimmest of margins, the San Jose Sharks know that their seven-game homestand could very well determine whether this team makes it to the postseason, or books tee times at Pebble Beach or Hasso Plattner's CordeValle by the end of April.
It’s exactly one month until the Sharks conclude the regular season on April 27, and headed into their game on Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks, they sit in the eighth and final playoff position with 34 points (14-11-6), percentage points ahead of Nashville and one point ahead of Dallas and Columbus.
“This is a huge, huge chunk of our season right now. It’s nice to start it coming in with a win on the road,” Todd McLellan said, referring to the Sharks’ 5-3 win in Anaheim on Monday. “But, 14 points lie ahead of us here at home. If we hope to get to where we’d like to get to, we’re going to have to be very productive here. There’s no doubt about it.”
Ryane Clowe, who will return from a four-game absence with a shoulder injury, said: “It’s probably a make-or-break home series.”
The Sharks’ 8-1-4 home record is drastically better than their 6-10-2 mark on the road. Of their final 17 games this year, nine of them are at HP Pavilion. After playing the Ducks, the Sharks will host Detroit, Phoenix, Vancouver, Minnesota, Calgary and Dallas.
On Wednesday night, they’ll be looking to win consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Jan. 26-27. Since starting the season with seven wins in a row, the Sharks have won back-to-back games just once (March 2 and 5).
“We’ve got to start winning games in a row. We haven’t done that in awhile,” Logan Couture said. “String a couple together, and it’s good that we’re back home now. We enjoy playing here in this building, and it’s a good time to win two in a row.”
Patrick Marleau said: “It’s been a battle to string a few together since the start of the season, but that’s where you can see some movement in the standings and give yourself a little bit of breathing room right now. We have to be desperate. We’re right on the verge of not making it and being in, so if we string a few together, it will give us a little cushion.”
The Sharks scored five goals on Monday for the first time since their home opener, a 5-3 win over Phoenix on Jan. 24.
In fact, in the last nine games, the Sharks have managed 24 goals in regulation. That’s equal to the total they scored in the 17 games prior, from Jan. 29 through March 6. In other words, the Sharks are scoring more than a goal-per-game in their last nine games (2.67) than they did in those previous 17 games (1.41).
On Monday in Anaheim, Joe Pavelski scored for just the second time in 19 games; Marty Havlat broke a 15-game goalless drought; and James Sheppard tallied his first of the season.
“We knew that we would come around eventually,” Couture said of the goal scoring. “We’ve got enough talent and skill in this room to score goals, and we know that. We just need to work to find ways to do that. It’s good to have different guys stepping up and scoring goals. That’s what we need, scoring from three and four lines. You look at teams that have been successful this year, they have scoring throughout their lineup.”
McLellan said: “At the end of the day, we should be able to win 2-1 or be able to win 4-3. I don’t know that we’re going to win 6-5 many nights, but we should be able to play in any type of game.”
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Monday’s game in Anaheim was the first time that Jason Demers, Justin Braun and rookie Matt Irwin were all in the lineup at the same time. Defenseman Douglas Murray was shipped to Pittsburgh for a pair of draft picks on Monday.
Did that extra blue line speed, specifically from Demers and Braun, help the Sharks’ transition game?
“They make our team faster, I really believe that,” McLellan said. “They get the pucks up, they both have a shooting mentality, which helps. For the first time this year, we’ve had this blue line engaged altogether at once. We liked what we saw offensively, and defensively there are some areas to clean up, but those two are a big part of our team moving forward – not just today and tomorrow, but in the future.”
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This is the fifth and final game of the season series between the Sharks and Ducks, who could very well meet in the first round of the playoffs. Each team has two wins through four games.
“We’d like to be able to win the season series, and feel good about that,” McLellan said.
The Ducks dropped consecutive games in regulation for the first time all year when they lost home games to the Detroit Red Wings on March 22 and 24. It increased to three games with Monday’s loss to the Sharks. The Ducks still have a 10-point lead over the rest of the division, though.
“We’re preparing out team for the best that Anaheim has tonight,” McLellan said. “[Head coach Bruce Boudreau] has the ability to get that out of them, and they’ll be fine.”
Jonas Hiller is expected to face Antti Niemi in net. He's played in just one of the first four games of the season series, a Sharks 3-2 shootout win at HP Pavilion on Jan. 29.