In what could be an emotional and spirited rematch, the Vancouver Canucks (26-26-7) visit the San Jose Sharks (34-17-7) at SAP Center tonight. Both teams could be looking for bounce back efforts tonight: the Sharks just had a six-game winning streak snapped on Thursday at the hands of the Washington Capitals, and the Canucks are just a few days removed from a 7-2 shellacking the Sharks laid on them in Vancouver on Monday.
That game may have been dominated by the shaky performance of Vancouver’s emergency netminder, Mikey DiPietro, and the reasonable questions that followed: Why do the Canucks only have two available NHL goalies? Why didn’t they play better in front of their rookie keeper? What human adult prefers to be called Mikey? The ‘Nucks, to their extremely limited credit, went out the very next day and acquired Marek Mazanec, a perfectly serviceable 0.903 AHL goaltender, from the New York Rangers for a seventh round pick, exactly one day after they needed him most. Horses, barn doors, et cetera.
You’ll be forgiven if, after six wins in a row and a dominant 4-0 road trip, you’ve forgotten what it feels like to lose, but the Sharks gave you a stark reminder earlier this week.
The Sharks, in a pitched battle for first place in the division and conference, dropped a crucial two points, and all of our hearts, on Valentine’s Day this past Thursday to the visiting Capitals in a 5-1 reckoning. After an early goal, the Sharks allowed five straight to the defending Cup champs, leaving our boys tied at 75 points with both the Calgary Flames for first in the Pacific, and the Winnipeg Jets for first in the West. On a brighter note, Joe Thornton’s 1458th point came on an assist (shocker) on Kevin Labanc’s opener, clearing the Canadian legend of Teemu Selanne for 15th on the NHL’s all-time scoring rankings. Nine more and he’ll tie Stan Mikita at 1467.
While we’re on milestones, Alex Ovechkin, the new and improved Russian Rocket, scored his 39th goal of the season in the win, meaning his tenth 40-goal season is all but a formality. He’ll be the fourth NHL player to achieve the feat, the other three being Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, and Mario Lemieux, whoever they are. Ovechkin is neither a Shark nor a Canuck, so his achievement may not be strictly relevant here, but his impact is noteworthy regardless.
After that loss, the Sharks will need every point they can get to avoid a Vegas Golden Knights match up in the first round of the post-season. The Flames have one game in hand over our hometown heroes, so every game matters down the stretch. With an unenviable contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins on tap for Calgary tonight, two points from a bruised, battered, and not all that good Vancouver team should be a high priority. The Jets will be a tougher sell tonight, as they host the eternally moribund Ottawa Senators this evening.
The Canucks, bounce back candidates though they are against this particular club, ended a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 shoot out win over the always generous Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. Brock Boeser scored his 20th of the season and tallied the winner in the shoot out to bring his club level with the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot in the West. Minnesota’s overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils last night got them one point up, but the spot is up for grabs. The idea that a team with a -17 goal differential is even within sniffing distance of the post-season may seem anathema to some (waves hand), but such is the state of the 2018-19 Western Conference.
After the All-Star Break and before the trade deadline is one of the more exciting stretches of the NHL season, and our standings-watching has intensified accordingly. If you have the emotional bandwidth to be a Sharks, Penguins and Senators fan tonight, then Godspeed.
How are all these Canucks getting injured anyway?
Currently dealing with injuries to Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Brandon Sutter, Jake Virtanen and Thatcher Demko, the Canucks are suddenly stricken lame with the injury bug. Tanev, the latest of the Canucks to hit the injury list, has been replaced by call-up Luke Schenn, which should make Sharks fans rejoice, but what is going on in Vancouver these days? And how far can Elias Pettersson carry this team if he has to do it all by himself?
Wait, do the Canucks even want to make the playoffs?
After picking in the top ten in the last three drafts (and grabbing Boeser at 23 in 2015), including picking Quinn Hughes at seventh overall last year in Dallas, would it be so horrible for the Canucks to be favored a little in the draft lottery this year, when Hughes’ brother Jack is a top two pick and the entire ceremony is hosted in Vancouver? An unexpected playoff berth is nice, but when the franchise is not ready for sustained success (they are not), would a first round exit really be preferable to a top pick in your home town? (It would not).
Will Erik Karlsson ever play again?
The Sharks’ loss to the Caps on Thursday was their ninth straight game without the Swedish game breaker, and, as of this writing, he’s questionable to return tonight. Without Karlsson, the Sharks’ strategy to bowl through the post-season like the 2007 Ducks with their very own version of Pronger and Niedermayer is in jeopardy. By all accounts, Karlsson is dealing with a groin injury and his recovery is expected in the very near future, but any injuries to a man who has suffered a broken foot and a severed Achilles tendon in his past raise eyebrows.
Bold prediction: The Sharks get back on the saddle, winning a wild 6-4 slug fest, complete with a Timo Meier hat trick (this time we mean it!). The Flames get pilloried by the Pens, but the Jets come out on top of the Senators, leaving the Sharks on top of the Pacific, and tied for top of the West.