SAN JOSE – No one could have predicted it at the time, but when the Sharks shut out the Ducks on Oct. 10 in Anaheim’s season opener, it was the beginning of a nightmarish start for San Jose’s Pacific Division rival.
Anaheim was blanked five times in its first eight games, and still has the worst goals-per game mark in the league (1.54). No other NHL team has been shut out more than twice.
Still, that may all be ancient history now. The Ducks (4-7-2) have won three straight, scoring 10 goals over that span, and just got captain Ryan Getzlaf back on Friday after he missed four games from an appendectomy. They are just four points behind the 7-6-0 Sharks after 13 games, with a chance to cut it to two.
San Jose, meanwhile, will be trying for consecutive wins for the first time since reeling off four in a row at the outset.
“I don’t think we really are looking at records, whether they’re good or not. We’re trying to establish our game early,” said Joe Pavelski, the Sharks’ leading scorer with 8 goals and 13 points. “We understand where teams are, but at the end of the night when you look at the score it’s usually about what we did.”
Pete DeBoer said: "Everybody knew they were going to be a better team. It was just a matter of time. … They're starting to get a little bit of their swagger back. You can see that.”
For the second straight game the Sharks will be facing a team on the second of a back-to-back, as the Ducks beat Columbus, 4-2, at home on Friday. San Jose was able to jump on a tired Florida club on Thursday with the first two goals in the first period, and after days of rest on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Sharks should be the more energized team.
Pavelski said: “We’re playing every other night. It definitely takes a toll, mentally and physically. … It’s nice as players to have that day, and you do get a lot of recovery. Hopefully guys are fresh again and we have another good performance.”
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The Sharks’ scuffling power play – still looking for its first goal at home – won’t have an easy time of it against the Ducks, who own the NHL’s best penalty kill.
On the top unit, DeBoer has swapped in Marc-Edouard Vlasic for Joel Ward, who goes to the second unit.
“That first unit's getting a lot of quality looks. I think we had us down for seven or eight chances on the power play [Thursday] night,” DeBoer said. “Eventually those are going to go in. I think from a coaching point of view you just try not to overreact to the numbers."
Pavelski said: “We’ve got to start getting some results. It’s on us as players now. Whoever is out there has to do it. We need to score. The top power play unit needs to get one. The second unit needs to get one. It just has to start rolling, because it will help us win some games.”
On the penalty kill the Sharks haven’t been much better. They’re just 22-for-33 in their last 10 games, and have lost the special teams battle outright in seven of their last 10.
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After a one game absence with an eye injury from a fight with Gregory Campbell on Tuesday, Mike Brown will return on the fourth line right wing wearing a full cage.
“Kind of a little elbow on a right jab when [Campbell] got me right in the eye,” Brown said. “Just take precautions, safety wise, a few days off to let it heal up a bit. So, wear the cage and good to go.”
Brown will likely take the place of Bryan Lerg, skating with center Micheal Haley and left wing Matt Nieto.
DeBoer and Joe Thornton praised Haley after Thursday’s win over Florida for fighting Shawn Thornton early and giving his teammates a shot in the arm. In 7:38 of ice time, Haley had one shot, two hits, and was 4-for-6 in the faceoff circle.
Haley said: “Being a fourth line guy, it’s the little things that add up. Winning faceoffs, playing in their end, getting some hits, playing in the O-zone. If we continue and build on what we started [Thursday] night, it would be great.”