Some recent struggles have left the San Jose Sharks in last place in the Pacific Division. If they plan on getting on track over the next two-plus weeks, they'll have to do it almost exclusively on the road.
The Sharks open a five-game trip and continue a stretch of 10 of 13 away from home against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night, with star forward Dany Heatley set to make his highly anticipated return to Scotiabank Place.
San Jose (11-8-4) has gone 2-3-2 in its last seven and is tied for the fewest points in the Pacific. While the Sharks are only three points out of first in the NHL's most tightly bunched division, they could find themselves considerably further back if they don't start to play well during this road-heavy stretch of the schedule.
"We've got to get our legs back underneath us. We've got a long flight," coach Todd McLellan said after San Jose lost 5-3 to Detroit on Tuesday. "I think we have to recognize and understand that there's been some Western Conference teams that have made this trip already and haven't had a lot of success, so we've got to prepare ourselves for tough games in tough buildings.
"We're going to have to polish our game up on the trip, get some guys healthy and then find a few extra players that are healthy and in uniform."
McLellan's team is 1-2-0 on this 13-game stretch that began Friday at Vancouver and has lost six of seven on the road.
Heatley carries a four-game goal streak into his return to Ottawa (11-13-1). He scored 180 goals with 182 assists in four seasons with the Senators from 2005-09, and is likely to be greeted rudely by the fans after demanding a trade and receiving one to the Sharks on Sept. 12, 2009.
Heatley faced the Senators for the first time since the deal Dec. 1, 2009, at HP Pavilion, recording two assists in a 5-2 victory -- San Jose's fourth in a row over Ottawa.
"They're going to make mistakes," McLellan said. "We have to live with that. ... We have to try and help them, we have to try and limit (the mistakes), and at the other end of the rink, we can't have three or four guys taking nights off, not over this next two-week stretch."
The club was missing forward Devin Setoguchi as well. The status of all four players is uncertain for Thursday.
With Heatley coming to town, the Senators will be facing a former teammate at home for the second straight game. The first encounter didn't go well, as Martin Gerber stopped 22 shots to help Western Conference-worst Edmonton knock off Ottawa 4-1 on Monday.
The Senators lost for the third time in four games and sixth time in eight. Coach Cory Clouston said his team "didn't respect our opponent" and wouldn't rule out the notion that his players were looking ahead to Heatley's return.
"That's a possibility, but it's no excuse," Clouston said. "We shouldn't have done that. We have to respect every team in this league."
Ottawa's Nick Foligno opened the scoring at 6:30 in the first period, but the Senators scored one goal for the third straight loss. They have managed seven goals in their last six defeats.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every NHL game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.