VANCOUVER – For the first time this season, the Sharks pregame morning skate was of the optional variety.
Not that that’s very surprising. The Sharks have reached hump day on a five-game road trip that involves significant travel, and on which they change time zones before every game. Wednesday’s practice at Rogers Arena was a light one, and several veteran players decided to stay off of the ice on Thursday morning before facing the Canucks later in the day.
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The Sharks visit Edmonton on Friday and Chicago on Sunday. Head coach Todd McLellan gave his assessment of his team’s energy level.
“I think we’re fine right now,” he said. “We’ll start to tap the energy stores, though, as we continue this trip, flying back east playing three games in four nights. Right now, it shouldn’t be an excuse.”
Tommy Wingels, who was on the ice Thursday morning with linemates Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, said: “You train hard in the summer for a season like this. You know you’re going to have a tough travel schedule at times, but you have to make the best of your opportunity when you have days off or afternoons off. … As a player, you know your own body, and you take care of it.”
The energy level will have to be better than it was one week ago, when the Canucks thumped the Sharks, 4-2 at SAP Center. It was arguably San Jose’s worst performance of the season.
“We didn’t play too well. Just play with a little more intensity, and attack a little bit better,” Joe Thornton said.
The Sharks kept the Sedin line, with brothers Henrik and Daniel and forward Ryan Kesler, off of the scoreboard that night. The Canucks still got four even strength goals from other sources, though, as Chris Higgins, Alex Burrows and defenseman Kevin Bieksa all had two-point nights.
The Sedins haven’t scored in their last three games, including that match against San Jose. Last Thursday, it was Logan Couture’s line that drew the tough assignment.
“They still had their chances,” Couture said. “They still played a lot in our end. But, try and keep them to the outside. They’re going to find each other and make quick, small passes to each other and look for someone in front.”
McLellan said: “Playing hard and strong against [the Sedins is] one thing. We did that in San Jose last week and they didn’t get on the scoreboard, but there were others that packed up the slack. That’s the type of team that they’ve developed here.”
Oddly, it’s the final game of the season series between the two teams that are now Pacific Division rivals. The Sharks will try and win consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 26-27, coming off of a 3-2 overtime win in Calgary on Tuesday that ended a five-game losing streak (0-1-4).
“We’re not going to see these guys for the last 60 games of the year, but they’re a good team and it’s a good challenge for us right now where our game is at, especially coming off of a stretch where we haven’t played the way we wanted to,” Couture said. “We played a little but better in Calgary, and hopefully we’ll continue to play better against these guys. We’ll need to.”
McLellan said: “Unfortunately, our fans and the fans here in Vancouver won’t get to see the two teams play again until perhaps we meet again in the playoffs. If that happens, we’ll look forward to it.”
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Antti Niemi will face Roberto Luongo in net. Niemi, who was pulled for the only time this season after allowing all four goals to the Canucks last week, will be looking for his first win since shutting out the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 26. Alex Stalock has the last two Sharks’ wins, including Tuesday, when he needed just 11 saves to beat the Flames.
Luongo was pulled in his most recent game, allowing four goals on 18 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Kings on Nov. 9.