This season, it could mean escaping last place in the Pacific Division, and the Mighty Ducks gained on San Jose with a 6-3 victory Thursday night.
San Jose is still two points ahead, but the last-place Ducks are on the way up, with seven points in their last seven games. The Sharks have lost eight of their last 12, and Thursday's defeat was their seventh in a row at San Jose Arena.
"It seemed like we were on the wrong escalator," Duck Coach Ron Wilson said. "We were going up the down escalator, and our feet were going like crazy. Now it seems like someone pushed the emergency stop. Now we're getting somewhere"
They have to take the standings step by step, but the teams in the bottom half of the Western Conference haven't exactly pulled away.
The Ducks couldn't beat San Jose last season to save their skins--or the pride of Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira, who started the Shark franchise but didn't make it to the second season before being fired because of front-office politics.
Winless in six games against the Sharks last season--including a devastating 6-0 loss in the final meeting of the season--the Ducks have won the first two games this season by a combined score of 12-6.
"It's night and day compared to last year. I don't know what it is," forward Joe Sacco said.
This time, defenseman Bobby Dollas made the score 5-1 only nine seconds into the third with a fluky goal on a long shot that banked off the glass. Dollas also had two assists, and his three-point game extended his point streak to seven games.
"He's settled his game down and he's gotten back to playing the way he did last year," Wilson said. "He's not trying to be Bobby Orr. He's trying to be Bobby Dollas."
It could have been a more lopsided victory, but the Sharks scored two goals 25 seconds apart in the third period, inspiring Wilson to call a timeout at 11:24 to settle down his team.
The Ducks might have scored three or four more goals than they did, but they failed to convert on a 2-on-1 rush and then on a 2-on-0 during the first period, with Joe Sacco and Garry Valk missing another opportunity in what has been a frustrating season for them both.
But Sacco broke his drought in the third period, scoring his first goal since Jan. 31, a 16-game span.
Paul Kariya extended his point streak to eight games with a second-period assist on Stephan Lebeau's goal. It was Kariya's 14th point in the last eight games and 25th of the season.
Other rookies have made increasingly larger contributions. Steve Rucchin, an Canadian college player last season who was a longshot to play pro hockey at all, scored two goals, one on a well-executed two-on-one with Peter Douris. It was Rucchin's second two-goal game, giving him five goals this season. Valeri Karpov, who was expected to get second billing to Kariya this season after being the second-leading scorer during the exhibition season, seems to have recovered his confidence and scored his third goal of the season, his second in two games.
The Sharks aren't the team they were last year, when they reached the second round of the playoffs. For one thing, the flashy line of Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Johan Garpenlov has been disbanded. The "OV line," as it was called, is over. Garpenlov has been traded, Larionov has been out all month with a broken foot, and Makarov, with a mere nine points, has been scratched the last four games.