For a span of a little more than two seasons, the Sharks owned the Vancouver Canucks to about the same extent as the Aquilini family. They swept them in the first round of the 2013 playoffs in the midst of a 10-1 run against their northern rivals across regular and postseason contests alike. So far this season, that hasn't quite been the case. With a loss tonight, their third straight overall to a Pacific Division opponent and their first loss at the Tank in nine, the Sharks have now dropped two home games in regulation to the Canucks already in 2014-15.
As was the case in their November 6th meeting, offseason acquisition Ryan Miller played a significant role in Vancouver's victory but this wasn't nearly as impressive a showing in defeat by the Sharks as their 3-2 loss that came after a would-be buzzer-beater from Joe Thornton was waved off. After a Jannik Hansen breakaway conversion and Radim Vrbata off-speed snipe staked the Canucks to a two-goal lead, the team largely bottled up the neutral zone and prevented the Sharks from generating many quality chances of note in the final frame.
In fact, the Sharks were held to just nine shots in the third period and only one after pulling Alex Stalock for an extra attacker. Combined with a failure to convert on any of the four power plays they earned through the first two periods in addition to a Joe Pavelski penalty shot, that listless finish led to the Sharks' third straight loss in which they gave away points to a division rival. They'll play yet another Pacific team in Anaheim tomorrow.
- Hard to blame Todd McLellan for not wanting to split up the Sharks' unexpectedly excellent third line, who turned in another great performance tonight, in order to accommodate Matt Nieto's return to the lineup but the Logan Couture line could seriously use a shake-up. Nieto has worked alongside Couture and Patrick Marleau in the past and Tommy Wingels hasn't been effective on that unit in a few weeks now.
- We did get a glimpse of Nieto playing on that line in this one but it was for the worst of reasons as Wingels was pretty viciously targeted in the head by a hit from Jannik Hansen. That play is certainly deserving of a second look from the department of player safety though a suspension won't do much to satisfy the Sharks who not only lost Wingels for a chunk of the game but watched Hansen pot a breakaway goal after exiting the box.
- Matt Irwin drawing into the lineup for Scott Hannan was certainly the right call but why he didn't get Marc-Edouard Vlasic's spot on the struggling second power play unit is tough to figure out. For all of Irwin's flaws at even-strength, and there are many, he's arguably the second best power play defenseman on the roster behind Brent Burns.
- Hopefully Stalock whiffing on Vrbata's shot and being caught out of position on Bo Horvat's opening goal can put to rest the notion that only Antti Niemi is prone to giving up the occasional soft goal. Stalock certainly wasn't the only reason the Sharks lost tonight but he didn't exactly help the cause; he'll need to be better when the Sharks face Winnipeg and Minnesota back-to-back on the road early next week.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Ryan Miller
2nd Star: Radim Vrbata
3rd Star: Joe Thornton