Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

540088.jpg

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' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”