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Sharks at Canucks Preview: Brock, flag, and Beagle

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The Sharks look to right the ship against an old rival in Vancouver.

Dec 14, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon (4) and Vancouver Canucks center Jay Beagle (83) battle for the puck during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the San Jose Sharks (21-24-4, 6th in Pacific) head to Vancouver, hoping to steal two points against Elias Pettersson and the dynamic Canucks (26-18-4, 3rd in Pacific). This will be the third of five meetings on the season for the west coast rivals, and the first in Vancouver — they split victories at San Jose’s SAP Center in their two prior games.

The Sharks come into tonight’s game looking to avoid the creation of a new losing streak, as they attempt to bounce back from a flat performance in Denver against the Avalanche. While Colorado was likely playing with a heightened sense of urgency and have been the better team all season, San Jose looked particularly lost, and now find themselves desperately needing to create some positive momentum as they head into the All-Star break.

Vancouver’s trajectory has been markedly different, as they’ve won three of their last four and five of their last eight games en route to third place in the Pacific Division. Elias Pettersson has been everything fans could hope for, posting 50 points in 48 games in his sophomore campaign, while the rest of the Canucks’ youth movement has shown they’ve arrived as well: Brock Boeser, newly appointed captain Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes have all produced at an impressive rate, tallying 43, 41, and 33 points, respectively.

With their explosive young talent, the Canucks appear poised to be a force in the Pacific Division for years to come. The Sharks have no room for another uninspiring performance if they want to earn a victory.

Will we see an effective Marcus Sorensen this year?

Frankly, this shouldn’t be the season you bank on any Sharks player having a career year, but Sorensen’s struggles have been particularly noticeable. While evaluating a player goes far beyond point totals, you’d be remiss to ignore some of the numbers Sorensen has posted; his five-goal, five-assist campaign has left him with half as many points (10) as he has penalty minutes (20), and a 0.22 per game scoring rate identical to that of teammate Brenden Dillon, a notoriously defense-first defenseman. That isn’t coming from a small sample size either, as Sorensen has played in 46 games this season, averaging a career-high in ice time per game at 13:48.

With a Sharks offense in desperate need of scoring help, particularly of late, the re-emergence of Sorensen on offense could be the sort of catalyst they need to jump start their offensive production for the second half (or so) of the season.

Shot Volume

The Sharks need to begin (and end) their Saturday night the same way many of their fans have been driven to this season: by taking shots. While that may seem painfully cliche — we all know the type to constantly scream “shoot it” while their club is on the power play, and the old “pucks on net” adage is as tired as it gets — it’s still true. The Sharks, fresh off a shutout loss in Denver which saw them muster only 27 shots, will have to find a way to generate more shots on goal if they’re serious about winning hockey games this year.

At 29.1 per game, San Jose averages the fewest shots of any team in the league not based in Detroit, and as is true of most statistics dominated by the Red Wings this season, it doesn’t correlate with success. Thankfully, the Canucks present an excellent opportunity for the Sharks to increase their shot volume, as they allow the fifth-most shots against per game in the NHL at 32.7. Look for San Jose to test Vancouver goaltender Jacob Markstrom early and often.

Win in the circle

Despite second-year phenom Elias Pettersson, who leads the team in goals (21), assists (29), and points (50), dominating headlines in Vancouver, the Canucks do a lot of things sneakily well. One such thing is their stellar play in the face-off circle: not only do they win the second highest percentage of face-offs in the NHL (at 53.4 percent) as a collective, but they ice multiple players who are individually dominant in that aspect of the game as well, with J.T. Miller, whose 59.32 percent face-off win percentage is the NHL’s second best, and Jay Beagle, whose 59.16 percent ranks third.

While the Sharks have been average in the circle (with the NHL’s 18th-best win percentage) they do have capable face-off talent on the roster, something that has helped them maintain their league-best penalty kill. That being said, they’ll need them to step up tonight, as the possessions gained and lost on face-offs have been meaningful for San Jose of late: this month, in games they’ve won a minimum of 48 percent of their face-offs, they’re 4-1. When they’ve won 47 percent or fewer? 0-3.

Bold prediction: Marcus Sorensen finds his game, tallying two goals in his best performance of the year.