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Canucks at Sharks Preview: A rebuilding team begging to crumble

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The Vancouver Canucks had a hot start to their season. Now, they’ve lost their last seven games. What gives?

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Anaheim Ducks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If you keep up with my Pacific Division Round Up weekly (which you should, duh), I may have been a bit too hyped on this rebuilding Vancouver Canucks team. Sure, I claimed they would win the Stanley Cup more than once, only half-kidding. The Canucks had a great start to their season, even topping the Pacific Division standings for a bit (shh, we all know that’s not hard to do right now. Let them have this). Currently, they’ve moved down to fourth, having lost their last seven games. What gives?

Their losses, for the most part at least, have been within a goal or two. They seem to be in every game. They struggle to score first, but fight back usually come the second period. Something just hasn’t been clicking.

The Vancouver Canucks currently have a 10-12-2 record, which is pretty impressive since we have grown used to seeing them occupy the bottom three spots of the division over the last few seasons. We haven’t seen the Canucks in the playoffs since 2015 and they were out in the first round. The team that went to an exciting Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins seemed to have disappeared. Prior to this big losing streak, there was a glimmer of hope that maybe they were returning to that form.

This season has been an exciting and challenging one, as the Vancouver Canucks look to rebuild without Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who over the years became the center of their lineup. They’ve found some strength in their offense despite losing the twins, especially in Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson. Pettersson was selected by the Canucks fifth overall in the 2017 draft. This season, he has 12 goals and seven assists, putting him just behind Horvat for the top point-producer. There’s already talk of Pettersson being a Calder Trophy favorite, and even comparisons made to The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. I wouldn’t go that far, but this kid isn’t slowing down any time soon. The Sharks will have to keep a close eye on him as he wreaks havoc on the net.

Bo Horvat has recorded 11 goals and 12 assists for a total of 21 points. The media is a little less stoked on him this season with the way Pettersson is performing, but Horvart is definitely one to watch. The Canucks last played the Anaheim Ducks where they fell 3-4. Horvat had himself a goal and an assist. He’s been known to get at least a point a game AND leads the team with shots on goal, so the Sharks’ less than impressive defense should beware. Remember Nikolay Goldobin? Me neither, but he has the third most points on this Vancouver team with a total of 15, four goals and 11 assists.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s been a rocky one for the Canucks as of lately. They’ve lost seven straight games. Though they have a strong offensive core, they just can’t seem to maintain momentum. Brock Boeser, the Vancouver star last season, has missed nine games with a groin injury. He did not make the California roadie. Alexander Elder, a point producing D-man, missed several games with a knee injury, did make the trip. He did not play in Anaheim, so his return may be against the Sharks. Anders Nilsson, the backup goalie with a 3-3-0 record on the season also made the trip after missing almost a month with a broken finger.

This will be the first time the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks meet this season. The last time these two teams met up was in March, where the Sharks took a 5-3 victory in Rogers Arena. Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier all had a goal and an assist each. The other goal was scored unassisted by Brenden Dillon. Alexander Elder had a goal and an assist against the Sharks, and he may be looking to relive that if he gets to play tonight. Goldobin and Horvat had the two other Vancouver goals, but we already know what they’re capable of this season.

The Sharks tend to play pretty well against the Canucks. The Canucks have a 54-51-9-7 record overall against the Sharks. Both teams will be looking for wins, the Canucks more desperate than the Sharks. San Jose is coming off a hard fought 4-3 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Logan Couture, Jonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen all got on the board while Martin Jones had a .826 save percentage. Prior to this loss, they shutout the St. Louis Blues, where Erik Karlsson scored his first goal in teal. I’m ready for the Karlsson scoring streak to begin.

The Sharks could add an eighth straight loss to Vancouver’s record if they tighten up their defense, pounce on their struggling defensive core and keep Pettersson and Hovart as far away from the net as possible.

Who will start between the pipes for Vancouver tonight?

Vancouver is in a bit of a sticky goaltending situation. Jacob Markstrom has been the primary starter in net. He has a 7-8-0 record this year. His goals against average is at 3.42 and his save percentage sits at .896. The Vancouver backup is Anders Nilsson, who is coming off injury. He didn’t play against Anaheim, but he should be making his return to the lineup on this roadtrip. Will we see Nilsson or Markstrom between the pipes? Nilsson has a 3-3-0 record and a 2.67 goals against average with a .912 save percentage. After their fill in backup Richard Bachman allowed 6 goals against the Minnesota Wild and Markstrom let in five against the New York Islanders last week, I think the Canucks may want to see if Nilsson is ready to start in net.

The return of Goldobin?

Nikolay Goldobin was traded to the Vancouver Canucks late in the 2016-2017 season after playing two games that season and failing to produce any points. The 2015-2016 season, he played nine games and had a goal and an assist. There was certainly a lot of hype around him coming to San Jose and he failed to make an impression. In Vancouver, he’s had a bit more to show for. Last season, he played 38 games and had eight goals and six assists. So far this season, he’s played 24 games and scored four goals and 11 assists. This won’t be the first time he takes the ice against his former team, but this season has been his most impressive thus far. Will we see Goldobin dominate his former team? Honestly, probably not, but hey, anything can happen.

Two bad defenses and two good offenses make a... right?

Something the San Jose Sharks defense haters on Twitter can celebrate is the fact that the Vancouver Canucks’ defense is noticeably worse. Also, their power play is awful. They’ve scored on 20 percent of their power play opportunities. The Canucks have lost seven straight games, three of them they allowed five goals or more. Their goaltending is subpar and their defense is pretty shoddy. Sure, the Sharks have their defensive weaknesses and their goaltending isn’t perfect, but I will very happily give them the edge over the Vancouver blue line. With a power play unit like the Sharks have, it shouldn’t be hard for them to capitalize on this defensive unit the Canucks have thrown together. Both teams have been offensively powerful, but I’ll also give the Sharks’ a bit of an edge on this one as well. If the Sharks play smart defense and fire offense, they shouldn’t have a problem defeating a desperate Vancouver team.

Bold prediction: Goldobin will score two goals, but Erik Karlsson will get a hat trick to make it all better. Please feel free to call me names in the comments for this absurd prediction. Happy Black Friday, hope you got a lot of deals at WalMart, but were respectful to the employees!