For four straight seasons, the Detroit Red Wings have finished atop the Western Conference standings. If they want to make it five in a row, they could use a win in their next game.
Detroit faces conference leader San Jose for the final time this season Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings (39-13-8) trail the Sharks (41-8-9) by five points but have played two more games than San Jose. They have also lost two of the past three meetings with the Sharks and cooled off since a six-game win streak, going 2-2-1 in the last five, including a 5-2 loss Saturday night in Minnesota.
Making his seventh career start and first this season, Jimmy Howard allowed two goals in the first 8:15, and Detroit's league-best power-play unit (27.8 percent) went 0-for-5.
"It definitely didn't go as planned," Howard said. "I'm still going to take some good things out of this game. I wish I could've done more with the opportunity I received here."
With Chris Osgood on a 10-day "mental breather" that ends Friday, the Wings will try for better luck with Ty Conklin, who beat the Sharks 6-0 at home Dec. 18 and has won all five of his starts this month.
Detroit will be looking for a better offensive showing, and odds are it could bounce back. Since their season-high five-game skid to end January, the Wings have scored 48 times during an 8-2-1 stretch.
They lead the league with 222 goals, including an NHL-best 74 on the power play. Detroit was 9-for-17 with the man advantage in three games before losing to the Wild.
The Wings will try to continue their success against Sharks star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Despite winning two of three meetings this season, Nabokov has given up 11 goals in the last two and is 7-14-1 with a 3.66 goals-against average in his career versus Detroit.
Nabokov has helped San Jose win four straight and recorded his fifth shutout of the season in Monday night's 1-0 overtime victory in Dallas - the start of a four-game trip.
"He was the first, second and third star in my opinion," coach Todd McLellan said. "He allowed us to escape with the point. I'm happy for Nabby."
Despite missing seven games with a lower-body injury, Nabokov is second in the NHL with 32 wins.
He needed the Sharks' offense, which has scored 197 goals and converted 24.1 percent on the power play, to bail him out in the previous matchup with Detroit on Jan. 17.
Trailing 4-3 late in the second period, San Jose scored three straight goals en route to a 6-5 home win. Detroit's Brian Rafalski made it tense by scoring with 1:56 left, but the Red Wings couldn't find the equalizer.
Rafalski, who has scored two of his eight goals this season against the Sharks, and teammate Daniel Cleary are looking to extend their point streaks to five games.
While San Jose has won three of the last four overall meetings, the teams have split their last four in Detroit.