One of the biggest San Jose Sharks storylines so far this season has been their consistency -- or lack thereof. It's an aspect of their game that they found at the beginning of December when they won eight of 10 contests and pieced together five wins in a row.
But it's a key to the game that came into question yet again when the Sharks struggled against the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes the weekend before the Christmas break.
As it turns out, San Jose's first opponent after the holiday layoff appears to be in a similar boat.
Like the Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks enter Thursday night's Pacific Division standoff at SAP Center having dropped their last three contests -- a blemish on a post-Thanksgiving record that included a five-game winning streak. While dealing with injuries to key players and relying heavily on their goaltending, the Ducks have had an equally uneven season before making a push early in the month of December.
Now, after an NHL-mandated three-day break away from the ice, both teams return looking to turn things around and gain ground in an increasingly competitive division race. But despite being in similar situations headed into Thursday's contest, the Sharks and the Ducks, who sit just two points apart in the standings, bring different things to the table. Keeping the focus on getting their own game in check could be the key to a Sharks victory.
One area where San Jose has a clear advantage over Anaheim is on the shot clock. The Sharks continue to outshoot opponents, registering 405 in the month of December alone over the opposition's 331. The Ducks are a different story, notching 287 shots to their opponents' collective 314. Perhaps then it's no surprise San Jose is, in fact, scoring more goals than it's giving up.
On the flip side, Anaheim has an edge between the pipes.
John Gibson has been connected to early Vezina Trophy buzz as his 2018-19 campaign continues to be the backbone of this Ducks team. He visits the Tank on Thursday with one of the best stat lines among regular starter goalies with a 2.52 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He's 1-0-1 against the Sharks so far this season, and gave up just six goals on 82 total shot attempts in those two games.
That record is, as you might expect, a stark contrast to that of Sharks starter Martin Jones, who after making vast improvements at the start of December enters Thursday's game with a 2.86 GAA and .899 save percentage.
So, what does San Jose have to do to get back into the win column against a team so close to them in the standings?
The Sharks got away from the detail-orientated defensive game they like to play last weekend against the Kings and the Coyotes.
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With the Ducks coming into town, scoring the fourth least goals in the league -- being without Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler no doubt plays a role there -- San Jose needs to take advantage and get that defensive effort back on track.
Logan Couture explained to the media just last week that better defense leads to better offense, which was evident over San Jose's five-game winning streak. Focusing on their defensive game could go a long way to the Sharks keeping the Ducks off the scoreboard and getting the puck past Gibson. Plus, registering that win can give San Jose a boost before it hits the road for three games -- but the Sharks can focus on that after Thursday night.