SHARKS (19-11-4) at CANUCKS (24-13-2)
Big Story: San Jose has sure had its difficulties with the Canucks as of late. Not only did Vancouver end the Sharks' season last May in the Western Conference Final (which required just five games), but the Canucks have won the first two regular-season matchups against San Jose -- both at HP Pavilion.
"A lot of our games could go either way," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "For whatever reason, they're falling in their side right now and hopefully we'll change that in the second (meeting)."
Injury Report: The Sharks will be without Martin Havlat (hamstring), Jim Vandermeer (hand) and Colin White (lower body). … Vancouver is likely to be without Chris Higgins (lower body), Aaron Rome (thumb), David Booth (knee), Aaron Volpatti (shoulder) and Byron Bitz (hip).
San Jose will certainly be looking for some payback tonight, but it won't come easily for them. The Canucks are coming off of a 4-1 loss on Saturday to the recently surging LA Kings, that loss was a game Vancouver could have won if they had worked for it. The team knows that, and they usually follow up such a loss with a renewed sense of determination and a redoubling of effort.
-Luongo. He has returned to form and been absolutely outstanding between the pipes. In his last dozen only 4 of them have seen his SV% 900. Of those 4 games, in all but 1 he has still more than done his part to get the win or give the team a chance. He has played his way back into the top goaltenders judging by stats, 20th in GAA, 23rd in SV%, and 9th in wins. While those stats aren't stellar, when you consider his first month and a half, he is on a tear.
-3 lines attacking and dangerous. When you have 9 forwards who can all fill a spot in the top 6 on most teams there is something special about your lineup. The Sedins are still leading this team, but they have more support than they ever have.
-Bieksa. KB3 seems to save his best games for Thornton and the Sharks. He's been turning his poor start around over the last couple of weeks, and having been responsible (at least in part) for our last two GWG versus San Jose, I expect he will be a force again tonight.
-Malhotra. The guy was brought in to win faceoffs and be a two-way center who would play responsible hockey, particularly on the defensive side of the puck. Over the last 5 games he is a -1, is barely 50% in the circle, and has zero points. He is routinely failing to clear the puck when the Canucks are hemmed in or on the PK, and his passing has been sub par. Much of this is likely due to his injury, but if he can't get it done, then he should be getting 4th line minutes and not 3rd.
-Breakout. The last few games where Vancouver has been pressured by a hard working forecheck they have been very slow to adjust and often making poor passes and failing to support the puck leaving one man attacking against 3 defenders by the time (if) the puck gets to the opponent's blueline. When they do gain the zone the other forwards are behind the play and slow to arrive. I've also noticed some poor timing on line changes of late.
-Talent. San Jose still boasts one of the league's best collection of gifted individuals, when they gel they are extremely dangerous and can control the puck and the play for most of the night. They are also still looking for payback against Vancouver for last year's playoffs and their meeting last week.
-Psyche. As was previously said during and/or following the last meeting between these teams, Vancouver is living rent free in San Jose's head. This is especially true in regards to their captain. The last game was a joke. The NHL did everything they could to give the Sharks a chance to win and they blew it. While I have zero respect for the NHL's officiating and head office, I don't expect that they will be going out of their way to hand the game to San Jose two meetings in a row. Lap, Bur, and especially Kesler, should have an easy time of getting under San Jose's gills tonight.
-Goaltending. Niemi is always questionable, he will either be red hot with a greasy horseshoe up his ass, or he will be hit and miss and be letting in some softies. Get one by him early and you will probably have 2 periods of hockey to play before he settles down and shuts the door. He is very good at taking away the entire bottom of the net, and is quite quick and finding the puck after it hits him. He makes most of his "amazing" saves in traffic when he has no clue where the puck is.