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Sharks Face Another Crucial Game Against Division Rival Ducks

The San Jose Sharks are on a roller coaster at the moment, and fans of the team are experience one of their own, as popularized in a metaphor by the Ohio Players, if you get where I'm going with that. References to a mid-seventies American funk band notwithstanding, they really are one of the harder teams in the league to gauge and an infinite amount of text can be written about them before any kind of conclusion can be drawn regarding their standing and skill level, other than the fact that they are not where they should probably be.

A six-game losing streak was snapped with a four-game win streak, and they're now winners in five of their last six, including last night's 5-3 comeback win over the rival Phoenix Coyotes. Now they'll face an even tougher test in the Anaheim Ducks, also Pacific Division foes and winners in ten of their last thirteen.

The Ducks sit at second in the division, while the Sharks are two places behind at fourth - just two points back though, and just barely hanging onto a playoff seed in the Western Conference. Every game is crucial right now for San Jose, but against division rivals and conference competition? No question.

Patrick Marleau snagged the game winner last night in the third period against the Coyotes, putting the puck to net on a short-handed breakaway. Kyle Wellwood and Joe Thornton also provided goals, and Joe Pavelski was responsible for two of them, including a power play goal to get things going for San Jose in the second period. 

Alex Stalock stopped all nine shots he faced in relief of Antti Niemi (after he yielded three goals on 27 shots) to earn the victory in his NHL debut. 

Anaheim has won two straight, and are playing in their first game since the All-Star break. Prior to the mid-season hiatus, the Ducks notched a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jonas Hiller made 35 saves and leads the league with 25 wins as the Ducks goalie.  Jason Blake notched his 200th career goal in his 800th career game.

It's the beginning of a seven-game road trip for San Jose, and the last at home before a four-game stint on the road for Anaheim. The Ducks are winners in two of the three games against the Sharks this season, and this is the first in Anaheim. The Sharks have win five of their last eight in Orange County, and seven of the last ten overall meetings between the two teams.