All but unbeatable at home last season, the San Jose Sharks have suddenly dropped four straight at HP Pavilion and five in a row overall to surrender the Pacific Division lead.
The Anaheim Ducks have had far bigger problems, but they can cap their four-game road trip with a third consecutive victory as they make their first of two December visits to northern California.
San Jose’s woes at the Shark Tank are perhaps its biggest issue after it went 32-5-4 at home last season en route to the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy.
The Sharks (19-8-7) went 0-1-3 in the final four games of their most recent homestand, and their troubles continued in a 2-1 loss at Phoenix on Saturday.
During San Jose’s four-day layoff, the Los Angeles Kings moved atop the division the Sharks won by 26 points in 2008-09.
“I think we have to acknowledge we haven’t won in five and where we are,” coach Todd McLellan told the Sharks’ official Web site. “The most important thing is we as a group have to realize there is not a significant difference between the teams (out west) any more.”
Thornton leads the league with 37 assists and 44 points this season, and his line with newcomer Dany Heatley(notes) and Patrick Marleau(notes) has combined for 48 goals, but San Jose has totaled just 10 goals during its losing streak.
The Sharks have still held leads in each of their four consecutive home losses, all of which came by one-goal margins.
It may not get much easier against the Anaheim team that eliminated the top-seeded Sharks in six games in the first round of the 2009 postseason.
The Ducks (13-13-7) lost twice to San Jose at home during a 7-11-3 start to this season. They’re still at the bottom of the Western Conference but showing signs of life, going 3-0-3 in their last six games.
A 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit to open their current trip was their ninth straight road defeat, but they’ve bounced back with victories at Columbus and Vancouver.
“We’ve felt .500 isn’t really a great accomplishment for our group, but our team is playing a better brand of hockey,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said after Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Canucks. “And if we can continue to develop as a group, then you never know what happens.”
Saku Koivu’s(notes) game-winning power play goal Wednesday came with 4:13 left. He and linemate Dan Sexton(notes) - a rookie who made his NHL debut earlier this month - have combined for seven goals and seven assists in the last four games.
Their contributions loom larger given the Ducks’ injury situation. Forward Joffrey Lupul(notes) is scheduled to have surgery Thursday to repair a herniated disk in his back, and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Teemu Selanne(notes) has been sidelined for two weeks due to a fractured left hand and isn’t expected back before the New Year.
In net, Anaheim has gotten improved play from Jonas Hiller(notes), who has stopped 63 of 66 shots in the last two games. Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes), who has enjoyed great success versus San Jose, may play Thursday in the second half of a back-to-back.
Giguere is 8-1-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against the Sharks. He hasn’t faced them since a 38-save shutout in a 4-0 home win Oct. 17, 2008.
The Ducks handed San Jose one of its five regulation home losses last season - a 5-2 defeat April 4 - then beat the Sharks twice more at HP Pavilion during the teams’ playoff series.
Anaheim visits again Dec. 26.