VANCOUVER, CANADA – NOVEMBER 29: Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks walks down the team hallway before their game against tthe San Jose Sharks at General Motors Place on November 29, 2009 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Conference-leading San Jose Shark roll into GM Place tonight to take on the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks and the Sharks will both try to rebound from unexpected and embarrassing losses on Tuesday.
The Canucks game on Tuesday was a defensive debacle, as they lost 5-2 at home to the NY Islanders. The surprising loss also saw rookie John Tavares register a point on every Islanders goal, with 2 goals and 3 assists. Likely the most disheartening stat of the game showed Roberto Luongo pulled from the net for the fourth time in 13 games. Granted, he received very little help from his entire team defensively through the first two periods, but Luongo also only had 4 shots against him the the second period and let in 2 goals.
A further blow to the Canucks is the loss of Mikael Samuelsson, arguably one of the league’s hottest players since January 1st. Replacing him will be an in-form Michael Grabner, called up from the Manitoba Moose. Grabner has been cold of late, but is a pure shooting sniper, so he should be an adequate replacement for Samuelsson and his shoot-first mentality. Grabner also showed some chemistry earlier this year when he played with Ryan Kesler. While it’s unfair to expect Grabner to replace Samuelsson’s recent goalscoring prowess, it would be a great bonus if Grabner can pot a few goals as a substitute for the famously snubbed Swede.
The Canucks face a tough test tonight. The Sharks lead the Western Conference, and are in the top 5 in almost every team stat across the board. Their only area of slight weakness is that they take a fair share of penalties, ranking 21st in PIM per game. However, the Sharks are one of the best PK teams in the league, so even when they take penalties, the Canucks will have a tough time scoring.
The key for the Canucks will lie in the first 20 minutes and their captain. The Canucks need to jump on the Sharks early and set the tone, just as they did against the Flames on the weekend. Roberto Luongo needs to rebound quickly, get his focus set and get back on his game. If Luongo has any fault in his game tonight, the Sharks will exploit it and his Canucks will be in for another long night at home.
You can call this game a measuring stick. The Canucks have played the Blackhawks, the other ruler in the West, and came out even. They won and lost twice. One win was close, the other was a blowout. The same can be said about their two losses.
So far, the Canucks and Sharks have only met once before this season, and saw the Canucks lose 4-2 at home. They will face off twice more this season, both in San Jose. If the Canucks want to prove they are a legitimate Cup contender, they need to win tonight and split the season series. A loss tonight does give them a setback, both in the standings and mentally.
Bobby Lu, this game’s on you. Set the tone early. Get your game back. Lift your team up. And above all, Canucks… Win da Turd!