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Canucks at Sharks preview: Stay hungry

Both teams are coming off a loss, but the two points are more important to the Sharks.

Vancouver Canucks v San Jose Sharks Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

The Sharks haven’t been great at winning games they should, by all means, be able to win. Coming off a 2-1 loss to the basement dwelling Arizona Coyotes, pretty well exemplifies this team’s struggles to bring out their best against the league’s worst.

Enter: The Vancouver Canucks.

These teams have met three times this season: a shut out victory for the Sharks in November and two overtime games split between them in December.

Before the new year, the Sharks’ strength was in their defense. The blueline doesn’t look all too different now, swapping out Tim Heed for Dylan DeMelo, but since the Sharks’ offense started to thrive, the defense has taken a noticeable nosedive.

This could mean good news for the Canucks, who are struggling to produce offense. Though they’re averaging 32.2 shots per game (compared to the Sharks’ 30.5), they’re only managing to net 1.8 goals per game (compared to the Sharks’ 3.6). If San Jose is weak on the blueline, there will be plenty of chances for the Canucks to do work.

Martin Jones is expected in net for San Jose, while Anders Nilsson will play his first game in SAP Center.

This is a big game for the Sharks, who only have two points separating them from the third place Calgary Flames. They already lost two points to a division team who won’t make playoffs this week. They can’t afford to lose any more.

Here’s what to look out for tonight:

What’s the deal with Brent Burns?

Pete DeBoer hasn’t ruled out playing Burns at forward again as a short-term solution to an injury plagued roster. There’s no doubt that he’s struggled defensively, but DeBoer emphasized that there’s no question of him being a defenseman — even if he has to play at forward as a bandage.

Tim Heed was sent down to the Barracuda yesterday and no corresponding call up has happened this morning. If Burns isn’t on the blueline, someone else will have to be and there are only six defenseman on the roster as of now.

How will injuries make this game different than previous meeting?

The Sharks started the year with too many forwards, thanks to Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow no longer being waivers exempt, while Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc made lasting impressions. Now there team has lost an entire line’s worth of forwards and it’s difficult to not be in panic mode.

But the Sharks aren’t the only team in flux. The Canucks’ injury list includes Sam Gagner (ankle), Brendan Gaunce (lower body), Markus Granlund (ankle), and Chris Tanev (leg). They’re out three wingers and a defenseman, which make the Sharks’ situation a little more bearable.

Of course, they didn’t lose their top line center. So it will be interesting to see how these teams adapt to their shortened benches.

Will the Sharks maintain special teams success?

The Sharks have the third-best power play in the entire league at a 23.3 percent success rate. That success hasn’t dwindled since losing Joe Thornton. They’ve also managed to bump their penalty kill to first in league, only allowing the opponent to convert 15.6 percent of the time. Special teams are often this team’s saving grace.

Then there’s Vancouver, with the 11th best power play (21.1 percent), but a 77.7 percent penalty kill, ranking 26th in the league. As these teams stand, a special teams battle could look very similar to the Sharks’ victory in Columbus earlier this month.

Bold prediction: Someone gets traded mid-game. Give me the drama!

The line combinations will come an hour before puck drop, along with our game thread. In the meantime, you can drop your own bold predictions below!