SAN JOSE –- At this rate, the Sharks might be better off finishing third in the Pacific Division so they won’t have to start a playoff series in their own building.
Travis Zajac scored twice for New Jersey and Keith Kinkaid made 30 saves, giving the Sharks their latest home loss on Thursday night in front of a thin crowd at SAP Center, 3-0.
San Jose fell to 1-7-1 in its first home game after a multiple-game road trip, and is just 12-15-3 at SAP Center overall. The Sharks remain four points behind first-place Los Angeles and three behind Anaheim, which were both idle on Thursday and now possess one game in hand on the Sharks.
The Devils went 18 minutes and 21 seconds between shots in the second and third periods, but scored on both to take a two-goal lead.
[KURZ: Notes: Zubrus finding role with Sharks, set to face old team]
Devante Smith-Pelly’s tally at 3:14 of the second opened the scoring. The former Anaheim winger’s shot from the circle appeared to deflect off of Roman Polak on its way past Martin Jones.
The Sharks woke up at that point, recording the final 14 shots of the middle frame. They couldn’t solve Kinkaid, though.
A hard-charging Logan Couture just missed a centering pass from Matt Nieto on a rush, and later he couldn’t quite jam a loose puck inside the near post on a San Jose power play. Patrick Marleau, snakebitten of late, couldn’t finish off a two-on-one with Joe Pavelski with eight minutes to go.
That allowed New Jersey to up its advantage, when Zajac skated around the net and saw his attempt deflect off of Paul Martin and just over the goal line at 1:35 of the third.
The Sharks’ best chance to score came on a late power play. Brent Burns smoked a one-timer that went just wide, but bounced right back to the defenseman. His second attempt looked like it was headed toward the open net, but it hit John Moore in the leg and stayed out with about five-and-a-half minutes to go.
Zajac’s empty-net goal sealed the win with 52 seconds left.
San Jose outshot the Devils 30-16 for the game, but was shutout for the fifth time this season and first time since Dec. 12.
The Sharks won the only other meeting of the series on Oct. 16 at Prudential Center, 2-1 in a shootout.
The Devils, who came into the game last in the NHL in goals-per game, won for just the third time in their last 11 (3-8-0).
The Sharks were 0-for-3 on the power play, and are just 3-for-19 over the last seven games.
New Jersey was 0-for-1.
Jones had two of the previous three games off in favor of new backup James Reimer. He allowed two goals on just 15 shots, and is 10-12-1 when facing 26 or fewer shots.
Kinkaid got his fifth straight start as regular starter Cory Schneider remains out with a knee injury. He evened his record to 6-6-1, earning his second shutout.
The meeting marked a reunion for a couple players, one on each side. Dainius Zubrus faced New Jersey for the first time since he was bought out in the summer after eight seasons there, while former Shark Tyler Kennedy, who spent two seasons in teal, skated for the Devils.
Tommy Wingels missed his 11th straight game with a sprained left shoulder, but said on Thursday morning he hopes to play next week.
The Devils were without several of their best players, including Schneider, Patrik Elias and Mike Cammalleri.
The Sharks host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Saturday. San Jose won the first meeting in the District of Columbia on Oct. 13, 5-0, although Washington was without Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.