NHL

Ducks-Sharks Preview

Anaheim is in position to win seven straight for the third time this season, and it's going to take a substantial disruption for the top team in the NHL to be pressured in the Pacific Division.

Still, the Ducks have something to prove Thursday night as they visit a San Jose Sharks team that's coming out of the All-Star break with the chance to forge a more personal seven-game streak.

The Sharks (25-17-6) have won the last six meetings in San Jose and have taken three of four overall matchups this season, accounting for 30 percent of the Ducks' regulation losses and clinching the five-game season series.

Anaheim (32-10-6) returned from the break in top form with Tuesday's 4-0 win in Vancouver. The Ducks have outscored opponents 25-10 in non-shootout goals during their run while killing off 18 of 20 power plays.

"We just wanted to go out there and start the week off right," defenseman Hampus Lindholm told the team's official website. "We did a very good job of that. The whole team is getting stronger. We feel like we're playing good out there. We just need to keep it up."

San Jose, playing its fifth date on a seven-game home stretch, is a distant second in the Pacific to Anaheim - 14 points back and one ahead of Vancouver and Calgary with Los Angeles also on its heels.

The Sharks are collectively 5-0-2 against Anaheim, the New York Islanders and Nashville - three of the four first-place teams - and they haven't played Detroit. However, though they've gone 3-1-1 in their last five, a 6-6-2 mark in the past 14 - during which they've allowed 3.21 goals per game - hasn't helped them make up ground in the division.

"We're a middle-of-the-pack team right now," coach Todd McLellan said. "Until we declare ourselves any different and that's through play and wins, that's what we are. We have to take steps forward to overcome that."

The Sharks defeated the Kings 4-2 last Wednesday going into the break. Joe Pavelski scored for the second straight game to give him 24 goals on the season, and he had two in the latest meeting with the Ducks - a 3-0 road win Dec. 31.

He's scored five times during a four-game goal streak in the series and has points in eight straight meetings.

Logan Couture had two goals and an assist against Los Angeles and recorded a goal and an assist New Year's Eve to give him 13 points in his last 10 against the Ducks.

"I don't know if we've played our best hockey yet," Couture said. "We're still improving, which is also positive. We realize we have a tough road ahead to get to the playoffs."

Some of that figures to fall on Antti Niemi's shoulders. He's won three of his last four starts, but has gone 5-4-2 with a 2.92 goals-against average in his past 11.

Niemi's most impressive showing during that stretch was a 28-save effort in the shutout of the Ducks. He's been in goal for each matchup this season, as well as all six games of the home winning streak against Anaheim with a 1.95 GAA.

Counterpart Frederik Andersen hasn't been nearly as good against the Sharks, going 1-5-0 with a 3.51 GAA. However, he's matched a career-best seven-game winning streak with a 2.07 GAA since losing to the Sharks last month.

Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have each totaled five points in their last two trips to San Jose.

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