As reporter Dan Murphy said on Rogers Sportsnet at the start of the Canucks’ third game of the season against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, “they have been the Canucks’ kryptonite.” It is true that San Jose has been terrorizing the Canucks; they’d won an 11 straight games against them (including pre-season and playoffs). The last time the Canucks beat the Sharks in San Jose was December 28, 2011, almost two years ago. The San Jose Sharks are proving to be one of the biggest challenges the Canucks will have to overcome in the Pacific Division.
The first two games for the Canucks against the Sharks this season ended with identical scores of 4-1 for San Jose. In the first, which was the Canucks’ season opener, Jason Garrison opened the scoring for the Canucks on the powerplay. The Canucks had many more powerplay chances, but simply could not capitalize on them. They were often messy and bunched in front of the net and most of the goals were the result of giveaways and odd man rushes.
The second game against the Sharks on October 10 was the first game of the season in which Henrik Sedin was held pointless. The Canucks’ lone goal came from Mike Santorelli, assisted on by Ryan Stanton and Chris Tanev. They failed to generate much in the third period when down two goals (looking nothing like the “comeback kids” they used to be).
“We certainly didn’t have enough players going to make a difference,” coach John Tortorella told NHL.com after the game. “Every 50-50 puck, they stick-checked us and were going the other way.”
Comparing the Canucks’ latest game against San Jose, on November 7, to the Canucks first game of the season against them, on October 3, is a good gauge of how far the Canucks have come over the past month. While the game on November 7 still had its faults and downsides – such as both Sedins being held pointless – the Canucks ended San Jose’s win streak against them and responded with more pressure in front of the Sharks’ net, contributions from the Canucks’ second and third lines and stronger defending.
The Canucks got a few goals as a result of going hard to the net. Santorelli scored the Canucks’ second goal (his first goal since scoring against the Sharks on October 10th) by going hard to the net and “being hungry,” as put by commentator John Garrett. The line of Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins and Santorelli generated two of the Canucks’ goals. Higgins and Burrows had two points each; Higgins scored the Canucks’ third goal.
The Canucks put more shots on the Sharks’ goalies (Antti Niemi was pulled partway through the game) than the Sharks put on Roberto Luongo; a change of pace from the other two games, in which the Sharks outshot the Canucks. This was obvious to Sharks coach Todd McLellan who told NHL.com, “We were clearly outworked.”
The other two goals, scored by Brad Richardson and Zack Kassian, were assisted on by Kevin Bieksa, who, like the other defencemen, played a very offensive game. While the Sharks’ second goal was scored when their players were able to get past both of the Canucks’ defencemen on the ice, the Canucks defence seemed understandably more comfortable than they were in the first game of the season. The Canucks were able to have success in both ends of the ice, which was also demonstrated by their penalty kill; the Sharks have not been able to score a powerplay goal on the Canucks yet this season.
“I thought it was probably one of our better games with our sticks, as far as stick on puck,” Tortorella said. “They’re such a big team, they protect the puck well. So, our sticks were on the ice, and I thought we disrupted them that way. I thought it was probably one of our better defensive games that way, and I felt we competed really hard. That’s a good win for us.”
The Canucks next and last game against the Sharks in the 2013-14 regular season is November 14th in Vancouver.