The San Jose Sharks will close out the 2013 calendar year with one game both home and away against their Pacific Division rivals. Before the New Year's Eve clash with the Anaheim Ducks in Southern California comes the second contest of the year in the Bay Area Sunday, Dec. 29.
San Jose won in a shootout during their first contest at home to end November. Earning the first point in this rivalry Sunday will come from the effort of the pictured personnel (including Bracken Kearns recalled Saturday to take the roster space of the injured Tomas Hertl), and every point in the tight Western Conference is vital.
The Ducks beat the Pacific Division rival Phoenix Coyotes Saturday at home and now have to travel to play a game the next night. By contrast, the more-rested Sharks have been at home since they beat the same rival Friday.
They will need a quick start and sustained effort to wear down red-hot Anaheim, who comes in having won 10 straight. That has increased the lead over San Jose to 2.5 games for the 2013 Pacific Division champions, but the Los Angeles Kings have moved down to third with a last-minute regulation loss to the Nashville Predators Saturday.
The Sharks have won three straight, but each required a shootout and they were probably out-played in all three games. They are 3-5-4 in December without the skills competition despite playing just five teams that are good enough to qualify for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in the Western Conference.
The Ducks are a mere half-game ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for the best record in the NHL thanks to the 2013 Stanley Cup champions shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. Just eight points separates either division's second-place from the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Still, San Jose is 13-1-3 at home and still have the NHL's best home point percentage during 2013 at .829. Anaheim is a respectable 14-7-3 on the road, but would carry a 2-4 vs. 6-5 record into the shootout if it goes that far.