Although they are atop the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks do not have much margin for error.
The visiting Sharks look to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss when they go for a season sweep of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
San Jose (31-19-7) has 69 points to lead a division in which last-place Anaheim has 60, and the Sharks know they could easily end up having their streak of consecutive postseason berths end at seven.
"I know we're first in our division, but that doesn't mean much when you're only a few points from being out the playoffs," left wing Ryane Clowe told the Sharks' official website. "We're looking for wins, not so much good efforts. We need to get the points in the bag."
San Jose has dropped four of five to start this nine-game trip after falling 3-2 on Sunday to Detroit, winner of 23 straight at home. The Sharks held a 33-28 advantage in shots on goal but took little solace in their third straight one-goal defeat.
"We were much happier with the effort," coach Todd McLellan said. "But it is still a loss and we can't get caught up in satisfaction points."
The Sharks have outscored the lowly Blue Jackets (17-35-7) by a 10-2 margin in winning the first three meetings this season. Six San Jose players have scored in the season series, led by Joe Thornton with three goals.
Logan Couture, surprisingly, is not one of them. The center recorded his team-high 25th goal Sunday on the power play and has amassed 17 points over his last 13 games. San Jose has converted on 15 of 40 power-play chances during that stretch for an NHL-best 37.5 percent rate since Jan. 21.
The Sharks are third in the league with the man advantage at 21.1 percent, and will be up against a Blue Jackets team that's last in the NHL in penalty killing at 75.8 percent.
Columbus has been more competitive lately, going 4-3-1 in its last eight. The Blue Jackets fell 3-2 in overtime on the road to the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Sunday.
"I like the way we battled, we clawed and fought for everything," interim coach Todd Richards said. "Unfortunately, we lost the game in overtime."
Top scorer Rick Nash scored the tying goal with 1:33 left in regulation. Nash has been the subject of trade rumors with the Blue Jackets set to miss the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons.
"We're trying to win games," Nash said. "That's the bottom line. I'm going to do everything I can to help our team win.''
Steve Mason has started the last five games for Columbus, going 2-2-1 with a 3.07 goals-against average. He may still be the better choice Tuesday since Curtis Sanford has posted a 3.15 GAA in losing all four career starts to San Jose.
San Jose's Antti Niemi has won all three starts at Nationwide Arena with a 2.61 GAA, but backup Thomas Greiss has beaten the Blue Jackets twice this season, yielding one goal each time.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, second on the Sharks in ice time, left Sunday's game with a bloodied face from a deflected puck. His status for Tuesday is uncertain.
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- San Jose Sharks
- San Jose