Canucks at Sharks Preview: Game of Hughes proportions

It’s beginning to look a lot like crunch time.

Psst, listen. Do you hear that? It’s the winds of change.

For the San Jose Sharks (15-17-2, 6th Pacific), those winds came in the form of a brand new coaching staff, led by former Florida bench boss and longtime San Jose assistant coach Bob Boughner. Meanwhile tonight’s opponent, the Vancouver Canucks (16-12-4, 5th Pacific), has experienced a more long form kind of change; they’ve actually iced a competitive team for the first time in years.

When the Canucks came to the SAP Center early last month and thumped the Sharks to the tune of 5-2, it felt like rock bottom for a floundering San Jose club. And while the Sharks improved immediately after and won 11 of their next 13, the team’s current six-game losing streak has called for some new voices in the locker room.

The Canucks enter tonight’s contest having won three of their last four games, albeit in very different ways. After hammering the Ottawa Senators 5-2 and nearly blowing multiple two-goal leads to the Buffalo Sabres last week, Vancouver found a way to hang on for over 60 minutes against a powerful Carolina Hurricanes attack on Thursday before Elias Pettersson scored a highlight reel overtime goal to give the Canucks the 1-0 victory.

By now you’re probably more than familiar with the exploits of Vancouver’s sophomore Swede. Pettersson’s 34 points in 32 games gives him the team lead, with regular linemates J.T. Miller (31) and Brock Boeser (29) following close behind.

But unlike last season, the Pettersson line hasn’t needed to carry the entire scoring load. Thanks to key contributions from fellow young guns Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat, as well as depth role players like Josh Leivo, Tanner Pearson and Adam Gaudette, the Canucks currently sit tenth in the NHL in goals scored with 102. Compare that to 2018-19, where the team scored just 219 in the entire campaign to finish 25th.

One thing that hasn’t changed in Vancouver is the team’s bad injury luck, which has returned in full over the last few weeks. While Brandon Sutter is slated to return to lineup soon after missing the last month with a lower body injury, four different Canucks have been placed on injured reserve already in December. Canucks goaltender of the future(?) Thatcher Demko was ruled out on Thursday with a concussion, Alex Edler and Micheal Ferland are nursing upper body injuries and depth player Tyler Graovac was hurt in a contest against the Oilers on Dec. 1.

It’s Boughie Time

Even through one game of the Boughner era, the Sharks have already made a few changes for the better. Kevin Labanc was shifted to the power play’s high slot in an effort to boost the team’s shot options during the man-advantage.

As for 5-on-5, expect the see the Sharks to work on employing a more wide open style of hockey, with the expectation of individual players winning the puck battles along the boards and leaving the other four players open for passes. With a Canucks team that has struggled of late to keep high danger chances away from their own net, it could prove to make the difference in earning Boughner his first win as Sharks coach.

Dr. Strange-Glove (Or How I Learned to Keep Worrying About Martin Jones)

When it comes to the masked men in net, the Canucks and Sharks couldn’t be in more different situations.

Jacob Markstrom is coming off arguably the greatest performance of his career — a 43 save shutout against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Martin Jones is coming off a game where he let in multiple soft goals and proved to be the Sharks’ undoing at the hands of the Rangers.

But after Aaron Dell struggled in the previous matchup against Vancouver, it’s likely that Jones will get a chance to redeem himself tonight against his hometown team. It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating: when Jones is struggling he tends to overthink his save selections, which leads to the type of goal that Artemi Panarin potted in the second period on Thursday.

I don’t know what Martin Jones’ happy place is, but he sure needs to find it. If he plays a little less aggressively in the crease and gives himself some extra time to get his whole body in front of the puck, he’ll find his job a whole lot easier.

Bold prediction: Taylor Hall is going to get traded to Arizona before the end of the weekend.

Oh, you meant a score prediction? Well the way both these teams have been going defense wise lately, and the Canucks’ historical tendency to let everyone accomplish their major milestones against them, I’m fully expecting a 5-4 Sharks overtime finale to notch Bob Boughner his first win.