VANCOUVER Its time to start playing some hockey games.
After another odd break in the Sharks schedule that has seen them dormant in the last four days, a quick glance at the standings shows that San Jose has played the fewest games in the NHL with 34. A handful of teams have already played 40.
The Sharks will begin 2012 in Vancouver against the rival Canucks, and over the next three weeks, will play 13 games in 22 days leading up to the NHL All Star break. And thats just fine with Todd McLellan.
Its time to catch up with the rest of the league and play every second night, and get a grind going. Just be part of whats going on everywhere else, said the coach. We need to do that on a consistent basis, establish our game, and carry it through for the next couple of months.
The Sharks are a combined 0-4-1 against the two teams they face on this short trip to Vancouver and Anaheim. Theyve dropped two games to Vancouver, including Wednesday nights 3-2 overtime loss, and all three in regulation to the last place Ducks. San Jose visits Anaheim on Wednesday.
Harness the stored energy: The Sharks should have an advantage in that they havent played since last Wednesday at home against Vancouver, while the Canucks won in Anaheim and lost in Los Angeles in two subsequent games last week.
San Jose held three practices in the meantime.
Well take any advantage we can, Patrick Marleau said. We should have fresh legs going into tonights game. We expect their best, so well have to be ready.
Michael Handzus isnt convinced the time off is helpful, though.
I dont think its any advantage. Sometimes its better to play more games, sometimes its better to have a break, he said.
What could help is that the Sharks know they wont have any time to feel their way into the game against the Canucks. Even though they lost to the Kings, 4-1 on Saturday, Vancouver is still 15-4-1 in its last 20 games and just two points out of the Western Conference lead.
If the Sharks dont play with the kind of early energy they showed in last Wednesdays wildly entertaining affair, this one could be over early.
Its nice to face a top team. I think it will make us rise to the challenge, Ryane Clowe said. We know weve got to be prepared. Theyre hot, and probably the hottest team in the league.
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Its going to be a lot of emotions and its going to be fun, Handzus said. Sometimes after four days you feel sloppy, but you want that crowd in Vancouver and the emotion is going to be good for us. Its a good way to start the new year.
Special teams...as usual: Its starting to get repetitive, but the Sharks need to start playing better in both aspects of special teams.
The Sharks are 15th and 28th in power play and penalty kill, respectively, while Vancouver has the top power play in the league and seventh best PK.
Each team was 1-for-4 on the power play on Wednesday, which was a minor victory in itself for the Sharks. What irked them, though, were two late man advantages in which they had a chance to get the go-ahead goal that went by the wayside.
Between the pipes: Roberto Luongo will start again for the Canucks, and its all but certain hell oppose Antti Niemi for San Jose. The Sharks did not have a morning skate in Vancouver with the early start time.
Luongo has put a poor start to the season behind him, and is 9-3-1 since reclaiming the starting job from Cory Schneider in early December.
The Canucks have given Niemi fits in his career, as hes just 2-5-2 with a 3.19 goals-against average against Vancouver.
Odds and ends: Logan Couture, the Sharks leading goal scorer with 16, has seven points in the last seven games (4g, 3a). Defenseman Jim Vandermeer remains on injured reserve, and Colin White is out with a lower body injury. The Sharks are 7-4-2 on the road, and winless in their last four (0-2-2). They havent won away from HP Pavilion since Nov. 20 in Colorado. Tonights game at 5:00 p.m. PST is the inaugural hockey broadcast on the new NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).