Banged up Sharks face a tough battle against the Vancouver Canucks

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1:00 PST
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26-13-5, 57 points 28-15-4, 60 points
3rd in Western Conference 2nd in Western Conference

Television
NHLN-US, CSN-CA
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Five For Fisting
The Province

Nothing like a game against Vancouver to get the juices flowing.

And nothing like an early afternoon start to put a damper on the whole affair.

Anyways.

On to some roster updates before breaking down tomorrow afternoon's action:

After going down in the third period of Thursday night's game against the Ottawa Senators, Tommy Wingels was officially ruled out of action until at least the end of the All-Star Break by Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. He joins both Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat on San Jose's injured list, adding to a long list of top-six forwards the Sharks will have out of action against the Canucks.

San Jose responded to the injury news by sending Frazer McLaren through waivers and recalling left-winger John McCarthy from Worcester. McCarthy has amassed 11 goals and 27 points in 37 games this season in the AHL, leading Worcester in the point scoring race.

Despite "The Red Scare's" ability to light the lamp in the AHL this season, San Jose's ability to produce goals at the NHL level over their next three games is something that looks like it will produce about as much real action as the Cold War did. You can Tinker with the lineup, Tailor the gameplan, Soldier on, and Spy a few seeing eye shots here or there, but the fact remains that without Clowe, Havlat, and now Wingels the Sharks top six is going to be a huge work in progress that is going to limit the third and fourth line's effectiveness by default.

I really like what Andrew Desjardins has brought this season and have been extremely impressed with that fourth line as a whole. But a top-line player Desjardins is not. While he may just have been filling that role yesterday in practice to see how it works out, that's a pretty good indicator of where San Jose stands right now in terms of health amongst their forward group.

Maybe it's just me but getting three points should be considered a fair expectation for San Jose as they head into the All-Star Break. With three games in four nights against Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton during an Albertan swing where they've historically had some issues, keeping your head above water in the points department and riding this injury bug out is just as important as expecting to win every night and letting the negative emotions snowball when that doesn't happen. Three points isn't good enough for the players, and it's certainly not good enough for the coaching staff, but that's a reasonable bar to set with two key guys out up front.

It's also part of the reason why San Jose is positioned so well heading down the stretch-- everyone likes to talk trade, but playing without the services of Martin Havlat for nearly the entire season (and watching him shoot an unsustainably low 3.2% from the field) is something that we are undoubtedly looking at as a big reason why they will be dangerous this postseason. It remains to be seen how an upcoming 9 game road trip in February and a brutal 17 game lineup in March will effect their legs, but the roster pieces are definitely there to paint a rosy picture as to what the future may hold.

The Sharks head into tonight 6th in the League in overall points percentage and have fluttered around the top spot all season long. With strong underlying numbers, and a focus on team-wide scoring that takes the pressure off individual players to carry the team, a clean bill of health from Havlat will essentially be considered a trade deadline pickup before the playoff run. That's nothing but a positive if nothing but a look a little too far down the road considering what lies in wait.

Tonight the focus is on Vancouver, and inevitably that focus will shift to how San Jose has struggled over the last two seasons against the Canucks. The Sharks 3-2 shootout win on January 2nd at Rogers Arena was just their 3rd victory in 12 games, with an astounding 9 of those games being of the one goal variety.

Vancouver comes into tonight struggling however, posting a 4-2-2 record in the month of January and receiving little in the way of production from their top players. Daniel and Henrik Sedin have been held off the scoresheet in three of their last five games, Ryan Kesler has one goal in his last five, and their depth of Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond, and Jannik Hansen have done little in the way of helping the team win games either. It's an intriguing situation for San Jose-- catch the Canucks off their game, come in as the underdogs, and pick up what would be an absolutely marvelous two points.

Winning that race to three would be nice. But tomorrow afternoon I think it's up to Antti Niemi to steal one for San Jose.

Prediction: Sharks win 2-1. Goals by McGinn (x2). Dude's a beast.

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