Ever since the Canucks opted to fire head coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning, and additional staff, they've gone 5-0-0 and now sit just four points outside of a playoff spot. Vancouver’s most recent win came over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team was trailing 3-0 and rallied back to take the 4-3 win, so they've got to be motivated and hungry for more coming into this one.
This is a huge game for two Pacific Division teams looking to gain ground in the standings.
One thing about the Canucks is that their penalty kill is atrocious, ranking 31st in the league with a 66.7 percent. The Sharks' power play isn't great either, sitting at 17th; however, it's an opportunity to get special teams going against Vancouver.
An added advantage is that the Canucks’ ranks are depleted coming into this one. Luke Schenn, Brad Hunt and Tucker Poolman have been placed on the league's COVID-19 Protocol, and along with that, the team is also without Travis Hamonic, Brandon Sutter and Matthew Highmore. They are all on long-term injured reserve due to their respective injuries.
The Canucks don't have a single skater over point-per-game, but their leader is very close. Winger J.T. Miller has totaled 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) through 30 games. Defenseman Quinn Hughes has also had a major bounce-back season after a seemingly rough campaign in 2020-21, with 25 points (2 goals, 23 assists) through 29 games.
Expect to see Thatcher Demko, the California native, in nets for the Canucks tonight. He's been so good this season, despite the rough start in Vancouver. Demko has gone 12-11-1 with a .917 save percentage (improving to .919 through his last four games). The 26-year-old has had the Sharks' number throughout his career, rocking a 3-0-0 career record and .937 save percentage against San Jose.
A look at life without Labanc
Bob Boughner confirmed to the media that forward Kevin Labanc dislocated his shoulder and will miss the next three months. The team will now have to fare without the sniper and see if they have the forward depth to fill the hole.
Labanc has had a rough season, and hasn't performed up to his cap hit, with just 3 goals and 6 points through 21 games so far, but there have been times that he has looked pretty solid. Now, we'll see some different options from the Barracuda to take his place with him gone.
As of right now, it looks as though prospect Jayden Halbgewachs is going to get a good look by the Sharks here, and is even expected to make his NHL debut tonight on the first line with Tomas Hertl and Alexander Barabanov. Noah Gregor has been demoted to the third line now, but I think with Labanc's injury, his spot is safe for the next little bit.
Nonetheless, I would expect the Sharks to use a couple of more Barracuda players in the future to see what they've got in the organizational depth. Best wishes to Labanc; you've got to be rooting for him to come back strong.
Big game for Dahlen?
Jonathan Dahlen must have a chip on his shoulder heading into this game, as San Jose prepares to face the team that held his rights for so long and eventually traded him to the Sharks. Dahlen wasn't given a chance in the NHL with the Canucks, stuffed in the American Hockey League for one season after being brought over from Sweden, then moved to San Jose for Linus Karlsson.
Since then, Dahlen put up two straight 20+ points seasons, scoring over a point-per-game pace in Sweden and is now a top candidate for this years' Calder Trophy race, while 22-year-old Karlsson hasn't made the jump to North America yet.
Dahlen is also playing great on a line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier, so he may be poised to have an explosive offensive night against his former team.
Adin Hill gets the nod
James Reimer has gone 9-5-1 with a .936 save percentage, notching one shutout. Through his last four games, he has recorded a .960 save percentage. Despite this, it appears as though the team will run with Adin Hill in between the pipes tonight, marking his first start since an extended run that ended on Dec. 9.
Hill has slowly gotten back on track after a rough start to the season. As it stands, he holds a 6-8-0 record and .903 save percentage, and he's gotten much better at tracking the puck. Still a little puzzling to go with him after Reimer's tear.
Bold Prediction: A high-scoring game results in a game-winning goal from Alexander Barabanov because he's elite.