Canucks at Sharks Preview: Chaotic Canucks to test injured Sharks

There will be some new faces this time around.

The San Jose Sharks (8-16-4, seventh Pacific) are back at home to face the visiting Vancouver Canucks (10-12-3, sixth Pacific) for the second and final time at The Tank this season. The last visit ended with an overtime goal from rookie winger Andrei Kuzmenko.

Following a disappointing end to the homestand, San Jose continued with a disappointing road trip. In the first of four games, the Sharks earned a commanding win against the Montreal Canadiens, on the shoulders of Kaapo Kahkonen’s first shutout of the season. The team went down neatly in the next three games, despite keeping the scoring close in the first half of each.

On the other hand, Vancouver returned home for a four-game homestand that included losses to the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers, and overtime wins against the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal. The Monday night contest against the Habs was a real trip. After the first period, the Canadiens lead 4-0, and despite two Vancouver goals late in the second, there wasn’t much hope for a positive outcome. However, the Canucks managed to score three goals within the first nine minutes of the third period to take the lead.

Unfortunately, a goal from Christian Dvorak and an own goal resulted in the Habs taking the lead once more, but Kuzmenko once again came through, tying up the game at six goals apiece at 18:35 in the third. Overtime was short and sweet, as Elias Pettersson ended the game just 13 seconds after the puck was dropped with an unassisted goal to end the game, 7-6.

San Jose will have to stay sharp to take down their Pacific Division foes, especially ones coming off such an exciting win.

How will the new call-ups fare?

On Tuesday morning, the Sharks recalled winger C.J. Suess and goaltender Eetu Makiniemi and sent goaltender Aaron Dell back down to the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. Kahkonen will likely start in tomorrow’s contest, meaning it may be a few days before Makiniemi gets to make his NHL debut. This season, Makiniemi has posted a 6-4-1-1 record, 2.58 goals against average and .918 save percentage in 12 games. Makiniemi has also posted one shutout against the Tucson Roadrunners, stopping all 28 shots he faced on Nov. 20.

Suess has four NHL games under his belt, all with the Winnipeg Jets, but has yet to score an NHL goal. He’s played in 22 AHL games this season, notching 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists). He’s also on a bit of a hot streak right now, with two goals and two assists in his last six games.

How will the penalty kill respond to Nieto’s injury?

Matt Nieto has the played most time on the penalty kill of all Sharks forwards this season, racking up over 62 shorthanded minutes, an average of 2:13 per game. The only skater ahead of him is Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The penalty kill started to show some cracks when defender Mario Ferraro — the only other skater in addition to Vlasic to average more shorthanded time on ice per game than Nieto — went down. It’s uncertain how having two key players out will change things — and that’s not even touching on James Reimer’s absence. Staying strong while shorthanded is even more important with the number one goaltender out.

Nieto quietly supports the team on the penalty kill. He’s second in takeaways and second in unblocked shots and attempts percentage. Whoever steps up to fill his role is going to be expected to support the squad in the same way, and the team’s top special teams players are bearing a lot of duties already. Vancouver’s power play squad is good, the Sharks’ kill has to be better.

Of course, staying out of the box although couldn’t hurt.

Can the Sharks slow down Elias Pettersson?

Pettersson leads the Canucks in points with 32 (13 goals, 19 assists) in 26 games, ranking second in both goals and assists behind Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes, respectively. He’s posted three multi-point games in the last five and is fifth on the team in time on ice. The center is a massive threat, and after notching a point and an assist in the Canucks’ last trip to San Jose and ending overtime in just 13 seconds against the Canadiens, he’ll be one to watch out for.

San Jose will have to have an answer for Pettersson. His line of Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev are sitting at a 49.13 percent percentage share of unblocked shots and attempts, the second-lowest of the Canucks forward lines that have played more than 100 minutes together. Despite being under 50 percent, they’re generating 5.37 goals per 60 minutes, outperforming their expected goals for per 60 of 2.92. This lines isn’t generating a lot of chances, but they’re deadly when it comes to making good on the shots they take.

It’s pretty fair to say that the best way to keep Pettersson from scoring is to keep him from having the puck. He also leads the team with 25 takeaways, including the one that allowed for the overtime winner on Monday night. Keeping the puck away from Pettersson is going to be huge in the Sharks’ effort to win this game.

Bold Prediction: C.J. Suess scores in his first game as a Shark. Kevin Labanc scores again, yet the Sharks fall to the Canucks, 4-2.