DUCKS (23-20-7) at SHARKS (33-10-8)
Last 10 -- Anaheim 7-3-0; San Jose 7-2-1
Season series -- This is the fifth meeting between the Pacific Division rivals. San Jose won the previous four games, outscoring the Ducks, 16-6. The teams conclude the season series March 14 in Anaheim. The Sharks defeated the Ducks 4-1 in Anaheim on Opening Night Oct. 3. The Sharks won 3-2 on Nov. 21 when Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Ryan Clowe scored, and 4-1 in San Jose on Dec. 17 on two goals by Thornton. Patrick Marleau got his 300th and 301st career goals in a 5-2 victory in San Jose on Dec. 26.
Big story -- Two of the hottest teams in the NHL will face off at HP Pavilion. Between them, the Ducks and Sharks have one regulation loss in their past 13 games combined. The Pacific Division has an outside chance to put all five teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks lead the Western Conference. Phoenix ranks fifth and Los Angeles is eighth. Dallas and Anaheim are tied for 10th with 53 points, four points behind Los Angeles. Thornton again leads the NHL in assists and seeking his fourth career assist title.
Ducks -- The Ducks are playing their best hockey of the season, winning seven of their past eight games. Six of those victories were against teams currently in playoff positions. The streak includes wins over division leaders Chicago and Buffalo -- Anaheim beat the Sabres 5-4 on Tuesday for its eighth consecutive home win. But the Ducks are in for a severe test; they start a six-game road trip against another division leader -- their own. Rookies Dan Sexton, Matt Beleskey and Troy Bodie have performed very well in the absence of injured team leaders Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
-- The Sharks are 5-0-1 in their past six games and are locked in a battle for the Western Conference lead with the Chicago Blackhawks. This first game of a five-game homestand could help the Sharks open some distance on the Blackhawks, who are on an eight-game trip. San Jose ranks second in penalty killing and 5-on-5 play and fourth on the power play. They beat the Kings 5-1 in Los Angeles on Tuesday thanks to their special teams -- the Sharks were 3-for-3 on the power play and killed all five penalties. They've scored 14 goals in winning both of their games this week.
-- Thornton has 15 points in 15 games. Heatley has six goals and 10 points in 10 games. Marleau has nine goals and 13 points in 10 games, and 23 goals in his last 30 games. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov is 4-0-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average and .968 save percentage in his past five games. … Anaheim right wing Bobby Ryan
has three goals and five points in the past five games. Right wing Corey Perry
and center Ryan Getzlaf
each have three goals and seven points in the past eight games.
-- The Sharks are healthy. Ducks right wing Joffrey Lupul
has missed 20 games with a back injury. Right wing Selanne suffered a broken jaw and has missed three games. Both are out indefinitely. Center Koivu sprained his knee six days ago, has returned to skating but won't play Thursday in San Jose. He could be back against Atlanta on Tuesday. Forward George Parros
has missed the past 10 games with a hand injury but will could possibly be available against San Jose.
-- Put this one in the "makes no sense category:" Anaheim leads the NHL in home power-play scoring and is 24th on the road. San Jose is fourth-best at killing penalties at home. Anaheim is 22nd in killing penalties on the road. It's imperative that Anaheim, the NHL's fifth-most penalized team, stays out of the penalty box. San Jose is the fourth-best team when they score the first goal. Anaheim ranks 13th in overcoming first-goal against.
Puck drop -- The Ducks' hot streak appears to have restored their confidence.
"We knew from the beginning we had a pretty decent team. We haven't had that good feeling in here, that confidence to go out and win every night," goaltender Jonas Hiller said. "That's what happens right now. We kind of have that good feeling that we know we can pretty much beat any team in this league."