The Sharks and Ducks meet Sunday for the third time this season, under circumstances very different from any this season or last.
Anaheim has gone 4-1 in its last five games to pull season-high four games over .500. San Jose (21-15-5) has lost two straight, four of six, and just got a tongue-lashing from GM Doug Wilson.
More interesting than how each team is playing is how each team got to this point. Since the teams last met on Nov. 9, rookie forward Logan Couture has 13 goals and eight assists in 29 games to become the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer. They have six forwards (and one defenseman, Dan Boyle) entering play Saturday with at least 27 points – something no other NHL team can claim.
San Jose also isn’t leading the division, which is a strange sight for a team that’s won the Pacific Division five of the last eight seasons.
“They’re getting pressured from their management that this is a time for them to play to a higher level,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “There’s pressure points all over. With the depth in their lineup you can expect them to respond.”
Like Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim, the retirement of Rob Blake left a big, irreplaceable hole on the blue line in San Jose. It’s been a defense-by-committee approach with Boyle providing the offensive threat, Doug Murray providing the muscle and Jason Demers regularly playing more than 20 minutes a game in his first full NHL season.
There’s a direct comparison there to the Ducks; just replace the names – it’s not hard.
“We’re no different,” Carlyle confessed. “We’ve got, how many different guys that are different from last year? You don’t replace a Scott Niedermayer. You don’t go out and get a Rob Blake, go get a tree in your backyard and say, ‘hey, we’re going to get one of those.’ ”
The other missing element to the rivalry is Ryan Getzlaf.
Getzlaf and Sharks captain Joe Thornton have engaged in some memorable battles, none more so than their opening-faceoff fight in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series in 2009. Getzlaf didn’t actually win that fight but he clearly won the war, sending a message to his teammates (and Thornton) that the next 60 minutes were going to be a fight – a fight the Ducks won in a memorable first-round upset of the President’s Trophy winning Sharks.
Getzlaf is on injured reserve now. There goes that rivalry and, with it, the Ducks’ most logical option at center to match up against Thornton’s physicality and skill.
As of Saturday’s practice, Carlyle he didn’t know which line he would prefer to match against Thornton, but he at least offered a clue to his thinking.
“The one thing that gives yourself a huge chance when you play up against him is when you can start with the puck,” Carlyle said. “He’s pretty good in the faceoff circle.”
Bobby Ryan offers the size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) but probably not the faceoff acumen (39.2 percent) to predict a top line-vs.-top line matchup. Based on faceoff percentage, Saku Koivu (51.4) and Todd Marchant (47.8) are the more likely candidates.