Sharks and Canucks meet for the first time since the Western Conference Finals as Antti Niemi looks to stay hot

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7:00 PST
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12-9-1, 25 points 13-5-1, 27 points
10th in Western Conference 3rd in Western Conference
Television
CSN-CA (HD), CBC
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Five For Fisting
The Province

It's no secret that San Jose struggled against Chicago on Wednesday night, getting outshot 34-21 throughout the tilt and giving up a few odd-man chances to boot. The scoring chance count compiled by The Neutral tells the same story, as San Jose was outchanced 15-7 at even strength and a whopping 7-1 on the power play.

Those team-wide performances aren't exactly the type of effort you'd like to see against the League's best, but when you have a goaltender in Antti Niemi who is looking like one of the League's best right now, I guess some sins can be forgiven. We're not itching to cast the first stone is what we're saying-- right now a win is a win and two points are two points until it turns into a loss is a loss and zero points are zero points or something like that.

Speaking of Antti Niemi, his stat line since being pulled against Pittsburgh has been some kind of nasty. As we've mentioned twice now in our respective game reviews, Niemi has been rounding into circa April 2011 form during the month. Hell, another look never hurt anybody right? Let's take a peek:


Antti Niemi since being pulled against Pittsburgh (11/5-11/23)

Opponent W
L
OTL
GA
GAA
SA
SV
SV%
SO
Nashville
0
0
1
4
3.83
35
31
.866 0
Los Angeles
1
0
0
2
2.01
31
29
.935 0
Minnesota
1
0
0
1
1.00
22
21
.955 0
Detroit
1
0
0
2
2.00
42
40
.952 0
@ Dallas
1
0
0
1
1.00
31
30
.968 0
Chicago
1
0
0
0
0.00
34
34
1.00 1
- - - - - - - - - -
TOTAL
5
0
1
10
1.65
195
185
.948 8th

Beast mode engaged? Beast mode engaged.

Niemi will hope to continue his strong play tonight against a Vancouver team that has historically had his number. Over the course of his regular season career Niemi has posted a 2-4-1 record against the Canucks to go along a 3.26 GAA and .903 SV%. In his two postseason meetings, Niemi posted a .869 SV% (with San Jose) and a .903 SV% (with Chicago). In other words, it has been tough sledding for Niemi against the Western Conference powerhouse and should set up a moderately intriguing storyline heading into tonight.

In other news, David Pollak of Working The Corners reignited the fire that former Boston Bruins Cup winner Mark Recchi set last week when he called the Canucks the "most arrogant team I played against and the most hated team I’ve ever played against" during a radio interview. Recchi, who retired this summer after a 22 year career in the NHL (long enough to come up with a sufficient sample for anecdotal evidence of hated teams), understandably struck a chord with players in the Vancouver locker room who felt that the barbs being thrown were unwarranted considering the fact that the Bruins emerged victorious from that seven game series. DP does a good job of providing an overview of the comments so make sure to check it out.

As for me, I've never really had too much of an issue with the Canucks-- the fanbase and media covering the team has always been courteous, and their on-ice play, while definitely not devoid of dives and smack talk, has been more mesmerizing than traumatizing. I think a lot of the frustration has to do with a) how talented the Canucks are b) how many penalties they are able to draw with their speed and c) guys like Alex Burrows, Max Lapierre, Ryan Kesler, and Kevin Bieksa who are able to visibly grate the nerves of their opponents on a nightly basis. The theatrics and embellishment are the frosting on that contemptuous cupcake of course, but at their core the Canucks are a damn good hockey team that knows how to win hockey games.

The Canucks are on a three game winning-streak with a 5-0 win last night against Phoenix under their belts, and the League's best power play should be another opportunity for the Sharks new-look penalty kill to prove they are for real.

Long story short? Expect a battle tonight, with a little bit of extra hate thrown into every check and post-whistle shoving match that takes place.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by McGinn, Pavelski, and Havlat. The HP Pavilion staff takes a belt sander to all of the stanchions.

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