Quick Bites: Canucks sink Sharks (& Seals)

<strong>(Checks schedule) </strong>... Oh no, Elias Pettersson again?

The San Jose Sharks dropped a third straight decision to the Vancouver Canucks, giving up at least four goals in each loss. It was Tomas Hertl’s first game back in 10 days, following a two-game suspension and the NHL holiday break, and yet another beautiful jersey match-up between the two Pacific Division rivals.

In this game, like in previous outings against Vancouver, San Jose struggled to keep the Canucks’ top stars off the scoring sheet. It may have felt like deja vu to watch Elias Pettersson, Ilya Mikheyev or Andrei Kuzmenko combine to put one after another behind Sharks netminder James Reimer — that’s because it has happened in each of the games between these two thus far. The trio of skilled forwards will be sad to see there’s only one game remaining against San Jose this season, as they have combined for 17 points against the Sharks in three games.

From the onset, Pettersson’s line, featuring former Sharks forward Lane Pederson, sought quality chances. A theme for the game was San Jose’s struggle to clear puck out of zone, or sustain any kind of offense — especially when Erik Karlsson or Timo Meier weren’t on the ice.

Just under five minutes into the first, Bo Horvat scored his 25th goal of the season right at the doorstep, capitalizing on a 3-on-2 rush. Horvat is enjoying a career year at the right time, with his contract set to expire at the end of this season. Notching 26 goals in 34 games already — his previous career-high was set last year with 31 goals in 70 games — the Canucks captain has been swirling in trade rumors.

Noah Gregor almost immediately answered on the following shift, but was denied by Spencer Martin, who has been filling in nicely for Thatcher Demko in the Vancouver net. Martin stopped 24 of 26 shots to earn his second win in a row. At times, luck was certainly on his side. Over the course of the night, Alexander Barabanov, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture came mere inches away from scoring. However, Martin did enough to put himself in fortunate situations.

Defense optional

Postgame, Sharks captain Logan Couture expressed frustration with the bounty of goals the team seemingly allows every time the face Vancouver. Whether you point the finger at a lack of skill, inconsistent goaltending, shoddy defensive coverage, or all of the above, it has not been uncommon to see the Sharks give up more than four goals a game.

Pettersson was able to barely squeak one by on a second opportunity at the front of the net. Poor defensive coverage and missed assignments gave the superstar a lot of time to finish off a second shot. It was evident that Pettersson was really feeling good about his game, skating with power and confidence and being creative with the puck.

Later on, the Canucks made it 3-1, then 4-1 within one minute and 40 seconds. At the end of a power play, Vancouver sustained strong pressure, as Sharks defender Matt Benning was hurt from a blocked shot. Reimer was unable to move across his crease with Pederson physically impeding him, although this was thanks to Jaycob Megna’s push on Pederson. This marked the second time in as many games that Reimer was let down by his own defender pushing the opposition into him. Quinn Hughes then skated circles around the offensive zone before roofing it short-side on Reimer for his first goal of the season. The goal was one that Reimer might like to have back, but Hughes ultimately had too much time and space with the puck.

The game really got away from the Sharks quickly, and offensive desperation to tie it in the third period only allowed Vancouver to bury more dangerous chances in the other direction. For San Jose, the defensive woes keep on hurting.

On the bright side ...

There were two fun positives, both coming from the work of Meier and Karlsson. Entering the game, Sidney Crosby and Erik Karlsson were tied for the lead in even-strength scoring, but future-Norris-candidate EK65 pulled ahead with another multi-point performance.

The first goal came in the final minute of the first period. Beginning a power play, the team’s first unit wasted no time. Couture’s clean face-off win helped establish the offensive formation immediately. Some perimeter puck-handling from Hertl and Barabanov at both flanks opened up Karlsson at the top umbrella point of the zone. Without hesitation, Karlsson fired a low blast, allowing Couture, then Meier to deflect the puck past Martin. The goal marked the fifth straight game the Swiss forward has added to the goal column.

San Jose’s second goal came via a Karlsson/Meier connection, as well. Skating elegantly from behind his own net, Karlsson created something out of nothing by stick-handling into the Vancouver zone, then funneling a pass through three Canucks skaters to Meier, who scored his 300th NHL point. After two goals in this game, Meier is on pace for 46 over 82 games, which would far usurp his career best of 25, set last season.

San Jose will hope to bounce back with a solid defensive effort in front of home fans. The Sharks play next on Dec. 29, hosting the struggling Philadelphia Flyers at SAP Center.