In the wild, orca whales tend to kill and eat sharks, including great white sharks. In the battle of Free Willy versus Jaws, Willy would win.
On the ice, however, it’s a lot tougher to call. The Vancouver Canucks will face the San Jose Sharks in round one of the playoffs, with the first game starting in just a couple hours. Normally, this is when we’d look at the season series to see how the two teams match up, but the season series isn’t particularly useful this time around.
Sure, the Sharks won all three of their meetings this season, but those games came before Derek Roy and Ryan Kesler were in the lineup and only one of those games featured the Sharks’ Brent Burns at forward, where he’s excelled. Also, Cory Schneider started all three of those games and he won’t be in net for game one of the playoffs, with Roberto Luongo slated to start with Schneider our due to injury.
The two teams have changed significantly throughout the season, with the Sharks shedding multiple players before the trade deadline and the Canucks continually rotating injured players in and out of the lineup. So, what can we expect from these two teams? How do they matchup? Let’s break it down as best we can:
The Sharks boast a lot of depth at forward, which vaults them over the Canucks, though not by much. It starts with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, their two leading scorers, but they’re supported by Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, and Martin Havlat.
That’s a formidable top-six, except it actually isn’t. TJ Galiardi slots into the top line and Pavelski centers the third line with Raffi Torres and Tommy Wingels, a dangerous combination. Then you add the underrated Scott Gomez to the mix as the fourth line center and the Sharks can easily roll all four lines.
The Canucks have a solid group of forwards as well, but they have a few more question marks in the lineup. How well will Ryan Kesler perform having missed most of the season? Will Alain Vigneault load up the second line with Derek Roy and Ryan Kesler, putting Andrew Ebbett on the third line, or will he balance things out with Roy and Kesler both playing at center?
The Sharks defence, not including Brent Burns, have put up 58 points this season. The Canucks’ defence? 86 points. It’s a lot closer if you include Burns’ 20 points, but most of those were scored while playing at forward.
When the Canucks’ defence is clicking, they don’t just provide a lot of offense, but also can shut down opposition forwards with aplomb. Jason Garrison and Dan Hamhuis will likely get all the shutdown duties, while Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa freelance a bit more in the offensive zone, but it’s worth remembering that Hamhuis led all Canucks’ defencemen in scoring despite playing a more defensive role.
Andrew Alberts and rookie Frank Corrado will hold down the bottom pairing, with Keith Ballard waiting in reserve as well as Chris Tanev, once he’s healthy.
For the Sharks, Dan Boyle is their go-to guy, playing in every situation. Marc-Edouard Vlasic handles shutdown duties with Justin Braun, and Brad Stuart, Matt Irwin, and Scott Hannan round out the defence corps. That’s a solid group, but the Canucks outclass them in every area.
Antti Niemi has been absolutely superb in net for the Sharks this season, posting a career-high .924 save percentage, good for seventh in the NHL. He posted 4 shutouts and finished with a 2.16 goals against average.
Cory Schneider? .927 save percentage, 5 shutouts, and a 2.11 goals against average. Schneider has been absolutely outstanding for the Canucks this season and is a big reason why the Canucks continued to win when their offence sputtered and were able to weather Kesler’s absence.
If Schneider isn’t healthy enough to return in the first round, the Canucks can rely on Roberto Luongo, who has had a hit or miss season, but has had some excellent stretches and is still a fantastic goaltender capable of stealing a series. The Canucks have the edge in net.
The Canucks’ powerplay has improved significantly since the acquisition of Derek Roy and return of Ryan Kesler, going 10-for-40 since the last time the Canucks played the Sharks. It’s hard to ignore how awful it was for the rest of the season, however, with the Canucks finishing 22nd in the NHL.
The Sharks, on the other hand, finished 7th in the league in powerplay percentage with a very solid 20.1%. They’ve been on a roll recently, as well, going 6-for-18 in their last 9 games.
The penalty kill, on the other hand, has been a strength for the Canucks, with an 84% success rate. Only problem: the Sharks penalty kill was even better this season, killing 85% of their penalties. If this series turns into a special teams battle, the Sharks will have the distinct advantage.
Tags: Canucks, Playoff Preview, Series Previews, Sharks