Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for


Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE It's been more than six months since the Vancouver Canucks ended San Joses Stanley Cup dream last May when Kevin Bieksa scored one of the wackiest series-ending goals in recent memory.

The Sharks that were a part of that series remember it well, as the two teams meet for the first time tonight at HP Pavilion since the last year's Western Conference Final.

Obviously, theres some carryover there, Patrick Marleau said Saturday morning. You dont like losing to anybody, thats for sure. Our team has changed a little bit, but the players that have been here know what were going to be up against tonight. Its going to be a good challenge.

Its a new season. We put that behind us and try to learn from it, and build a championship team here this year, said Douglas Murray.

The Sharks enter the game on a four-game winning streak, but the Canucks have won three in a row themselves. After an up-and-down start, Vancouver may be playing its best hockey of the season after a 3-0 shutout win in Phoenix on Friday night.

Vancouver enters in 10th place in the Western Conference (12-9-1) while the Sharks (13-5-1) are in third, atop the Pacific Division.

They seem to be out of their doldrums, if you will, same thing we were in (this time last year) after playing in the final four, said Todd McLellan. They are a very committed team, hard on the backcheck, good gaps and not a lot of time and space in the offensive zone for the opposition.

"Obviously, right now youre getting nothing for free from this Vancouver team.

Middle men: The Sharks may have won their last four games, but according to McLellan, they have been outshot and outchanced in our last four games and still came away with victories.

That can't happen tonight, though.

If it does, then well be in a lot of trouble, said the head coach. I think Vancouver can finish with the best of them, and theyve proven that, so weve got to pick our game up a little bit.

The Sharks continue to own the second period, despite some uneven play during long stretches. After scoring the lone goal of the game on Wednesday in Chicago in the middle frame, San Jose is an incredible 20 on the season.

We know that second periods are our best, and I think that guys get that feeling when were going out after the first, that its going to be a good period, said Marleau.

Vancouver, incidentally, has been outscored 27-21 in the second period, but are a combined 14 in the first and third.

Top Jimmy: The Sharks will apparently stick with Jim Vandermeer and Jason Demers as their third defense pair tonight, as those two were the first off of the ice. Demers scored the only goal of the game in the 1-0 win over Chicago, while Vandermeer could be a necessary big body against a Vancouver team that likes to play physical.

Thats what I bring. If those are the games they want me in for, thats what Ill do, said Vandermeer.

The Sharks have rotated their third defense pair in each of the previous three games, with Colin White and Justin Braun playing in Colorado last Sunday while Demers and White played Saturday in Dallas.

Hot goalies: The Canucks and Sharks will both ride their hot hands in net tonight as Cory Schneider will oppose Antti Niemi. Niemi registered his first shutout of the season on Wednesday, while Schneider (5-4-0, 2.02 GAA, .927 SP) has stopped 46 shots combined in blanking Phoenix last night and Colorado on Wednesday.

Niemi (9-2-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 SP) has won his last five starts and allowed two or fewer goals in each of them.

Roberto Luongo (7-5-1, 2.97 GAA, .896 SP), the regular starter for the Canucks, recently returned from an upper body injury that caused him to miss two games. Hell begin the night on the bench, though, for the third straight time.

Odds and ends: The Canucks have the top power play in the NHL (24.5 percent), while the improving Sharks penalty kill has not allowed a power play goal in five of the last six games. Two of the four games between these teams last regular season went to the shootout, with each team winning once. The Sharks were 1-2-1 overall against Vancouver. The Canucks have outscored their opponents 10-1 over the last three games, while the Sharks have a 14-4 advantage in their four straight wins.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving


Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.


Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid


Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose but was happier to see the Sharks' top line get untracked.

"We've got to get those guys going to help us offensively," Couture said of teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier after the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. "We need them to produce."

Thornton opened the scoring for the Sharks, with Pavelski adding an assist, the pair's first points since November 8, a span of five games.

"I think with Timo with us last game it brought us a lot of energy and a lot of chances," said Thornton, who scored his first goal since October 26. "Me and Pavs really like playing with him."

Joel Ward added an empty-net goal with 47.8 to play for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak.

"We got enough offense to win," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "That's all that matters. I thought we played a good road game. I don't care how it looks."

Brendan Perlini scored with 7:37 to go, ruining Sharks goalie Martin Jones' bid for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in nine home games (1-7-1).

Jones finished with 26 saves.

"We defended really well," said Jones, who was tested seriously only twice in the first two periods. "The first 10 minutes they had a lot of jump and were buzzing around our zone, but after that not as much."

Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta left at 14:37 of the first period with an upper-body injury. Couture had collided with Raanta more than four minutes earlier, earning an interference penalty. Raanta skated to the bench during a stoppage in play and retreated to the locker room.

Scott Wedgewood took Raanta's place and was in net for only five seconds before the Sharks broke through. Wedgewood stopped Brent Burns' long shot from the top of the right circle even after it deflected off San Jose right wing Timo Meier. But the rebound kicked to the bottom of the right circle, where Thornton swept in and beat the goalie with a quick wrist shot.

"He (coach Rick Tocchet) looked at me and said go," Wedgewood. "I was like, alright. That's the tough part. Then shot, top, goal. That was tough."

San Jose made it 2-0 at 4:56 of the second, taking advantage of Arizona's inability to clear the zone while the Sharks were on a line change.

Justin Braun fought three Coyotes for the puck along the right boards before Joonas Donskoi swooped in, skated to the goal line then sent a pass across to Couture. Couture deked Wedgewood to the ice with a forehand fake, then scored on the backhand.

Perlini cut the lead to 2-1 when he redirected Derek Stepan's shot from the top of the right circle past Jones.

"We had some costly mistakes," Perlini said. "We got back within a goal but there were too many mistakes."

NOTES: Thornton has 22 goals and 83 points in 82 career games against Arizona. ... The Coyotes, who had played seven of their past eight on the road, opened a three-game homestand. ... Raanta made eight saves before leaving and has stopped 98 of the past 105 shots he's faced. ... Couture's goal was his first in five games.


Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.