Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

627982.jpg

Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

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.

RELATED: NHL standings

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).

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

After requiring a visit to a local hospital in Nashville due to being struck in the face with a deflected puck on Saturday night against the Predators, Logan Couture was able to fly back with the team to San Jose on Sunday morning.

The severity of his injury is still unknown, although his father, Chet, said on Twitter that it was “an ugly injury sadly.”

Another source close to the situation told CSN the injury is “brutal.”

Couture, who lost several teeth, visited with Sharks medical personnel on Sunday and a further update is expected on Monday. 

Perhaps the best-case scenario is that the injury looks a lot worse than it actually is, such as when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sidelined for one week when he took a puck to the face from the stick Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere in late December.

Losing Couture for any period of time would be a difficult blow to the Sharks, who have lost their last six in regulation, including Saturday’s 7-2 defeat to the Predators. Couture is third on the team in scoring with 52 points, and has a team-leading 11 power play goals. He entered Saturday’s game with four goals and five assists in his last 10 games, and has arguably been the team’s best player since mid-January.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after the game Saturday. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture was set up just outside the crease in the third period when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. He quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

The Sharks have seven games remaining in the regular season, hosting the Rangers on Tuesday and visiting Edmonton and Calgary later this week. They are tied in points (91) with Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division.

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of emotion in the game, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers, or at least remove Boedker and Donskoi and put Hertl back on the wing. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?