Canucks at Sharks Preview: Two teams desperate for a win

A virtual must-win game for Vancouver.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the Vancouver Canucks (7-10-3, sixth Pacific) and it is not good. The Canucks will face the San Jose Sharks (7-13-3, seventh Pacific) for the first time this season. The team flies in late tonight after a showdown in Vegas against the Golden Knights. It’s a quick turnaround for Vancouver, since tomorrow’s game time in San Jose is an unusual 5 p.m. local start.

It feels like every single player and coach in Vancouver is under the microscope. This was supposed to be the season. The team believed it was playoff bound. J.T. Miller was back in the fold. Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson were all healthy. Best of all, Thatcher Demko was in net for the team.

But then, Vancouver couldn’t win. The Canucks didn’t gain a point until the team’s eighth game of the season and so far, Vancouver has not been able to overcome the slow start.

Part of that is due to the strange decline of Demko, who posted a career year last season. He won 33 of his 64 starts and ended the season with a 2.72 goals against average (GAA) and .915 save percentage (SV%). It looked like he had claimed the net in Vancouver. This season, he’s gone 2-9-2 with a 3.87 GAA and .883 SV%. No one seems to be able to figure out what’s happening with the netminder. His back-up, Spencer Martin, has fared better, going 5-1-0 this season, but he’s only played 16 games in his NHL career.

But it’s not all Demko’s fault. Vancouver’s troubles seem to be mental on some level. The team has given up several multi-goal leads this season, going from games they were expected to win to regulation losses. The issue isn’t something that has gone away. It happened most recently last Monday against the Golden Knights. The Canucks had a 4-2 lead with less than 14 minutes left in the third period. Then the team allowed three unanswered goals and lost 5-4 in regulation.

Meanwhile, the Sharks have taken a few steps back. A few weeks ago, it looked like the team had turned a corner with wins over playoff-bound teams like the Minnesota Wild, Golden Knights and Dallas Stars. In fact, there was an actual win streak. Now the team looks discombobulated. San Jose has been outscored 23-13 in the last five games and the goaltending isn’t helping.

Reimer or Kahkonen, who does Quinn choose?

James Reimer was not good on Friday night. There were at least two goals that he should not have allowed, and that honestly, on other nights, he would have stopped. The last time that Reimer was that bad was Nov. 17 against the Detroit Red Wings — he allowed six goals in that game and admitted afterward that it was on him.

Two nights later, head coach David Quinn allowed Reimer to start against the New York Rangers. While the scoreboard ended with the Rangers on top, it wasn’t due to Reimer’s play. The  34-year-old stopped 41 of 42 shots on goal, but the Sharks could not offer him goal support on the other end.

Meanwhile, Kahkonen has not yet wrested the net away from Reimer this season. He can’t seem to string together two strong performances in a row. On Monday night, he stopped 37 of 38 shots for the win over the Ottawa Senators. Then, two nights later, he allowed the Seattle Kraken to score 7 goals on 26 shots.

Both goaltenders have something to prove tomorrow night, it’s just a question of who Quinn puts in net.

What happens next?

This is a game with interesting implications, though not for San Jose. Just about anyone you ask will tell you that Vancouver has not played up to its potential this season. It seems like every time the team gets a win and starts to look like it’s back on track, something happens and the losses pile up again. Vancouver is in a deep hole and that makes this game a must-win.

Tomorrow’s game is the second night of back-to-back games for the Canucks. It’s also a very winnable game. Management will expect its team to beat a team lower in the Pacific Division rankings like the Sharks. The pressure is on.

Vancouver needs a win Sunday night and a it needs a decisive one. Head coach Bruce Boudreau was already on the hot seat, if the team loses, Boudreau’s time in Vancouver is likely up. Either that, or a trade before Christmas becomes more urgent.

How high can Karlsson go?

Erik Karlsson has notched 19 points in the month of November with three more games to go. While he likely won’t approach Bobby Orr’s record of 31 points in one month (thanks, StatMuse), he will certainly still break the 20-point mark.

Only two modern defensemen have accomplished that feat in the span of one month. John Carlson scored 20 points in October 2019 and Roman Josi scored 28 points in March of this year. That’s it. StatMuse’s list shows Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey appearing the most with 20+ point months. Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin, Ian Turnbull and Nicklas Lindstrom also appear on the list.

Bold Prediction: This one is an ugly win for Vancouver with sloppy play from both teams and lots of scoring. The Canucks win 8-6.