SAN JOSE — With five straight home games before the Olympic break that begins a week from today, the San Jose Sharks are currently at a make-or-break point in their strange, unsettling season.

As of this morning, they appear to be breaking. On the heels of a disappointing shootout defeat to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, the Sharks were shut out 2-0 by their Southern California rivals, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, at HP Pavilion on Saturday night with a packed house of 17,496 fans booing their serious disapproval by the end.

What a killer defeat. It was the second time in the past 10 days the Sharks have been blanked at home by Anaheim, and that's certainly not any way to get yourself back in the playoff race, is it? Despite outshooting the visitors 34-24, San Jose couldn't get one past Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a game it really had to have.

"Giguere simply had a great game," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "The guy was just dead-bang on."

And the Sharks may suddenly be dead-bang dead. While they still have three more home dates plus a road jaunt to Phoenix to close the pre-Olympics schedule, their best opportunity to climb back into the mix may be slipping away.

While they will play 26 regular-season games once the NHL season resumes on Feb. 28, the schedule is not nearly as favorable. When things finally do start up again, their first opponent will be the Detroit Red Wings. Then they head out on a three-game roadie. Ouch.

Hence, the time to make a move is now. Instead, though, they're backpedaling. With this latest setback, the Sharks now trail eighth-place Colorado by eight points.


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Worse yet, they'll have to climb over three other teams to catch the Avalanche, including the team that whitewashed them Saturday night. This latest loss dropped San Jose into undisputed possession of 12th place in the West, not a position anyone could have imagined before this season started.

It's been particularly hard to fathom since the acquisition of Joe Thornton on Nov. 30. Even though they have won 16 games outright and notched a point in 20 of the 28 games they've played since acquiring him from Boston, gaining significant ground has been hard.

Unfortunately for San Jose, 12 of the 15 teams in the West have winning records, and nobody has seemed inclined to slow down much to this point. But with all of these teams now playing against each other down the stretch — every remaining game for San Jose is against the Western Conference — somebody has to start losing, right?

That has been the Sharks mantra for more than a month now: Just wait until we get back into conference play. But so far, the only dent they've made is in their own chassis.

San Jose is just 5-8 in overtimes this year and 1-6 in shootouts. The Sharks haven't won a shootout since Oct. 29 at Calgary. As a result, valuable points have been lost.

Situational hockey has been San Jose's bugaboo all year. While their power play improved significantly after Thornton joined the club, the Sharks are 16th in the league with a man advantage, a figure exacerbated by the fact they rank 22nd in penalty-killing.

On Saturday, San Jose had a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly a minute and a half in the first period and put five shots on net but couldn't get a puck past Giguere. That seemed to establish the tone for the rest of the night.

Then, when Anaheim drew a late penalty with 3:03 remaining, coach Ron Wilson made a wise play of pulling goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and going 6-on-4 for nearly 40 seconds to try to score the equalizer. Again, San Jose had some excellent chances but was rebuffed each time by Giguere. The Ducks finally cleared the puck in the final minute, and former Shark Teemu Selanne knocked home an empty-net goal with 33 seconds to seal it.

A win in this game might have started something. Now, it's almost essential San Jose runs four in a row — the next three home games against Calgary, Chicago and Dallas — followed by next Sunday's game in Phoenix.

If the Sharks go into the Olympics layoff sitting 11th or 12th and still seven or eight points out of the final spot, it likely won't matter much what happens when they come out of the break. If they can't do it now, they won't do it then.

Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at

csteward@angnewspapers.com.