Canucks at Sharks Game Day Preview: Sink or Swim

Ryane Clowe, San Jose Sharks parks himself in front of Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks.

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The Canucks suffered their first loss in 6 games in a lackluster 4-0 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. It’s easy to spin the loss – one in which they allowed 3 goals in the Oilers’ first 3 shots in the first 3 minutes of the game and then couldn’t generate any sort of offensive momentum to try and at least claw their way back into the game – as “just one of those games”. But the truth of the matter is, the Canucks right now are struggling to score.

Only two seasons ago, the Canucks’ offense – their 3.15 goals per game average and 24.3% efficiency on the powerplay – was the best in the NHL. And despite a slight dip last season, their 2.94 goals per game average and 19.8% powerplay percentage – were still 5th and 4th best in the league, respectively. This season, the Canucks’ are averaging just 2.51 goals per game (19th in the NHL) and converting on just 12.8% of their powerplay opportunities (30th – yes LAST place – in the league).

With no clear sign of a breakthrough, with Ryan Kesler and David Booth still injured, and with Zack Kassian still bothered by an injured back (and re-assigned to the Chicago Wolves yesterday), something has to give. In a desperate attempt to find some sort of offensive spark, the Canucks recalled wingers Nicklas Jensen and Bill Sweatt from the Chicago Wolves on Sunday.

Drafted in the first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, tonight with be Jensen’s first career NHL game, and it sounds like he will be lining up next to the Sedins. A big body with good wheels and good hands, Jensen can score. In two seasons in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, he potted 54 goals, plus another 8 goals in 16 playoff games. In his first stint with the Wolves, he had 6 goals in 8 games, including 2 goals in 2 playoff games. He started this season with AIK in the Swedish Elite League, where he scored 40 points (17G-23A) in 50 games, before coming back to North America to play with Chicago (11GP, 2G-2A-4P).

Billy Sweatt has had to cope with injuries this season, but has been decent season with the Wolves, recording 12 goals (5th on the team) and 29 points (4th on the team) in 56 games.

With Wednesday’s trade deadline looming – tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks is the Canucks’ last game before the deadline – there is hope the Canucks can find another top-6 forward (preferably a center) to help them in the postseason. GM Mike Gillis apparently took in the Sharks’ game against Phoenix over the weekend, and the Canucks are among the teams rumored to be interested in Sharks winger, Ryane Clowe. Clowe hasn’t scored in 28 games this season, but he does have 5 assists in his last 8 games. At this point, it seems anyone who can help ignite the Canucks’ offense would be a welcome sight.

Canucks Record

19-10-6, 44 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This is the third and final meeting between the Canucks and Sharks this season; the Sharks won both earlier meetings.

The Canucks cannot afford to the come out flat and lose the game within the first 8 minutes again, like they did in Edmonton. The Sharks are beginning to find their groove and have won 4 straight games and 5 of their last 6. They’ve allowed a total of just 10 goals against in their last 6 games, and have moved to 6th in the NHL in GAA (2.68) and 3rd on the penalty kill (86.8%) – this isn’t good news for the offensively-challenged Canucks. If the Canucks fall behind early, it’ll be a tough task to try and catch up later.

Who’s Hot

Antti Niemi has won his last 4 starts. He has 2 shutouts and has allowed just 5 goals in that span.

Now in his 3rd season as the Sharks’ starting goaltender, Niemi is having a great season so far. He’s won 16 games (4th in NHL) and has a 2.13 GAA (7th in NHL) and a 0.925 save percentage (3rd in NHL).

Who’s Not

Jannik Hansen has gone pointless in his last 4 games.

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