If you’d told the San Jose Sharks (4-9-1) and tonight’s opponents, the Vancouver Canucks (8-3-2), that by the start of November one of them would a point out from the Pacific Division lead and the other would be near the bottom of the Western Conference, they’d probably have guessed as much, but with the wrong order. While the Sharks sputtering out of the gate has been a surprise, the Canucks’ run of points in 10 of their last 11 games has been even more shocking.
But one month doesn’t make a season, and the Sharks showed that with their inspired play last night against the Winnipeg Jets, peppering goaltender Connor Hellebuyck with 53 shots. Unfortunately, the Jets still managed to edge out a 3-2 win thanks to an insane performance from Hellebuyck, and while there’s still lots of hockey left to be played, the hole the Sharks need to dig themselves out of keeps getting bigger.
The result may not have gone in San Jose’s favor, but the way the Sharks dominated the play was exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s a step in the right direction, and they’ll need another night like it with a speedy young Vancouver team in town tonight.
The Canucks had a similar evening in Anaheim where John Gibson stonewalled them until late in the third, when Adam Gaudette managed to put a puck in off Korbanian Holzer’s skate to send the game to overtime. Vancouver still dropped the game in the extra frame, thanks to a breakaway from Ryan Getzlaf and a botched attempt at “the Hasek slide” by Jacob Markstrom, but the points keep coming for a team that couldn’t buy a lucky bounce in seasons past.
The Canucks team rolling into town tonight is practically unrecognizable from the group that the Sharks have dominated in the past few years. Vancouver is once again led by their young guns like sophomore phenom Elias Pettersson, who leads the club with 18 points, with Brock Boeser and captain Bo Horvat following close behind. But some new names have also added to the offense this year, like off-season acquisition J.T. Miller and rookie blueliner Quinn Hughes, whose ten points currently puts him in a four-way tie for first in NHL rookie scoring.
But Hughes may not be a threat the Sharks need to worry about tonight, after he left last night’s game in Anaheim midway through the first period with a leg injury and didn’t return. Micheal Ferland is also out of commission for Vancouver after sustaining a concussion in a fight against the LA Kings’ Kyle Clifford on Wednesday.
This game is a litmus test for both teams, but the Sharks are nearing a place where they need to start racking up the W’s. Putting together a performance similar to their work last night against the Jets, but with a different result, could make for an important turning point in their season, especially if they do it against one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Can the Sharks shutdown Vancouver’s balanced attack?
The Canucks’ best players have been red hot of late, but a new twist has been the resurgence of scoring from Vancouver’s bottom six. Goals have been coming from names you probably forgot about, like Brandon Sutter, Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen. Even Tim Schaller had a run of four goals in three games last week. Yes, you read that correctly.
While Vancouver’s Big Four of Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat and Hughes are going to get most of the Sharks’ attention tonight, it’ll be key for Pete DeBoer’s crew not to get caught sleeping on the depth players and counter with a balanced defense. Shutting down Vancouver’s big names doesn’t guarantee victory like it used to, so keeping the Sharks’ best defense pairings fresh and giving the likes of Tim Heed and Mario Ferraro a few more chances to shine could make a big difference.
Battle of the Backups
With both teams playing the second of a back-to-back, there’s a pretty good chance we’re in for a goaltending matchup of Aaron Dell and Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko. Both have had varying success against the other team; Dell holds a 5-0 record and two shutouts against the Canucks, while Demko won his only start against the Sharks in the team’s last meeting back in April.
While Dell will have the home ice advantage tonight, the 23-year-old Demko has played a much bigger role for the Canucks this season and has people questioning whether he could steal the starting spot from Jacob Markstrom. Dell will definitely have his hands full tonight, but if history is any indication he’ll continue to play the role of the Canucks’ backup boogieman.
Bold prediction: I’m a Canucks guy and a Sharks guy, can I just take the Marge Simpson approach and predict that everyone will have a good time? No? Alright, the Canucks chalk up a 5-4 overtime win, but Joe Thornton scores every Sharks goal, so San Jose gets a point in the standings and we all get treated to some post-game fun. You know what I’m talking about.