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Photo Credit: © Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks Postgame Recap: Four-In-A-Row x2

The Warmup

Fresh off their ninth straight win at home, the Vancouver Canucks were back on the road Wednesday to swim with the Sharks in San Jose – the first of four away games over the next two weeks.

The Canucks entered the game on an absolute roll, sitting at the top of the Pacific Division and sporting the best goal-differential on the West Coast, though their still sub-.500 road record was reason for a least some concern.

The Sharks, on the other hand, were about ready to roll over. Though they came into the night as the top team in California, that’s about the only nice thing that could be said for an organization that trailed Vancouver by 12 points in the Pacific – with a game in hand, to boot – and nine points back of a playoff spot.

Martin Jones, he of the one win since December began, got the start in net against Jacob Markstrom, he of the recent All-Star Game appearance.

All in all, it looked like it should be an easy win for the Canucks. But as long-suffering Vancouverites have long since learned, there’s really no such thing – and the visitors were still going to have to put in a solid 60 minutes if they wanted to skate away with two points.

Speaking of skaters, Jeff Paterson provided the lineups for each side on Twitter, as per usual – and also as per usual, coach Travis Green wasn’t about to mess with a winning formula:

With today’s apparent leak of Seattle’s decision to dub themselves “The Kraken,” it won’t be long before the Canucks and Sharks aren’t the only sea creatures paddling around NHL waters – but for the time being, it was down to the two of them to battle for oceanic supremacy.

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1st Period

It took a lot of willpower for this author to turn off the Battle of Alberta and switch over to Sportsnet Pacific with its uncomfortable camera angle, but sometimes that’s the reality of the live coverage gig.

Who else but Erik Karlsson earned the first legitimate scoring chance of the night, dashing into the zone and firing a shot through traffic that Jacob Markstrom was able to stop with a kick-save.

The home team kept the pressure coming for the first five minutes of the period, pinning the Canucks in their own end and forcing the recent All-Star in Vancouver’s crease to make a handful of smart stops with his pads.

Unfortunately, one of those aforementioned pad-saves resulted in a rebound right to Tomas Hertl’s stick, leaving the San Jose forward with an empty half-net to shoot at – and he made no mistake, putting the Sharks ahead 1-0 early in the match.

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Heading into the first TV timeout, the Sharks again earned a chance that necessitated Markstrom coming up big. This time, the play ended in an awkward collision that had both Hertl and Quinn Hughes slow to get to their feet, but only Hertl would leave the game.

The Canucks’ first scoring opportunity of the game belonged to the fourth line, with the superb forechecking of Tyler Motte leading to a Jay Beagle chance in front – albeit an overhandled one. After the resultant icing, Brock Boeser and the third line hit the ice to take advantage, but were unable to maintain possession.

When the first line, Jake Virtanen included, next took to the ice, JT Miller made a nice behind-the-back pass to give Virtanen an open lane on Martin Jones, but Virtanen was unable to sneak it up-and-over the San Jose netminder’s shoulder.

With the tide having finally turned, Boeser’s line again took over deep in the offensive zone. The puck ended up on Hughes’ stick at the point, where he twirled himself into an opening and fired a frighteningly-accurate slapshot right past Jones’ glove-hand. Boeser and Chris Tanev earned assists on the 1-1 goal, with a little less than nine minutes remaining in the first.

For Boeser, it was his first point in five games. For Hughes, it was his first career road goal.

Meanwhile, Tomas Hertl exited the game for good, leaving the Sharks down a forward.

With both teams now on the board, play slowed down for much of the rest of the period. A reunion of the Lotto Line, a sprinkling of physicality, and a brief jousting match between Adam Gaudette and Evander Kane were the only further occurrences of note as the teams skated off after 20 minutes all tied up – but with the home team ahead 14-7 on the shot-clock.

Intermission Highlight

If you didn’t use the intermission to catch up on the Battle of Alberta, what are you even doing with yourself?

Tuning in to see if Zack Kassian beat up Matthew Tkachuk, and then actually seeing it happen – sometimes, you can get what you both want and need.

2nd Period

Jake Virtanen was back on the top line in place of Brock Boeser to start the middle frame, and that unit earned the first chance of the period – only to be rudely interrupted by Brent Burns hauling Elias Pettersson down to the ice, uncalled.

On his next shift, Pettersson was sprung on a breakaway by JT Miller, only to fire the puck well wide.

With his squad coming out a little flat, Travis Green threw his lines in the blender and started shuffling them shift-by-shift. Pearson-Horvat-Motte, Sutter-Beagle-Virtanen, Miller-Pettersson-Boeser, Pearson-Horvat-Eriksson, and all  in quick succession.

Green’s juggling did not have the desired effect. The Sharks turned the puck back up ice and Burns took hold of it at the point. He fired a shot that would have missed, had it not met with a Tyler Myers/Kevin Labanc conglomeration in front of the net. Instead, it deflected past Jacob Markstrom to give San Jose their second lead of the game to the tune of 2-1.

Shortly thereafter, Troy Stecher took the game’s first penalty, hooking Timo Meier to break up a two-on-one and sending the Sharks to the man advantage.

The San Jose powerplay looked dangerous for nearly the entire two minutes – and felled Jay Beagle at one point, sending him to the dressing room – but they were unable to get the puck through a tight Vancouver formation in front of Markstrom.

Taking the momentum of the penalty kill and running with it, Pettersson took off on his second breakaway of the period – hitting the net this time, but also Martin Jones.

Then it was time for Markstrom to show off what he learned at the All-Star Game. The Canucks’ goaltender came sliding across his crease to meet the business end of a Shark’s two-on-one and kicked up his left pad in wild fashion to rob Labanc of a sure goal – in what can only be described as a two-pad split-stack.

It was a save so old-school that it had a familiar feel to it.

With Patrick Marleau driving hard to the net, Alex Edler sent the Sharks back to the powerplay with a hooking penalty – but something else entirely was about to become the center of attention.

When the puck ended up in the Sharks’ zone, Erik Karlsson rode Tyler Motte hard into the endboards face-first, a dangerous hit that looked at least worthy of a boarding minor. Motte stayed on the ice long enough for officials to whistle down the play, and then went straight to the room with a few choice words for Karlsson – who remained on the ice for the remainder of the powerplay.

The Canucks’ penalty killers, minus Motte, did a good job of holding off the home team for the rest of the two minutes, and Edler came out of the box and onto a three-on-one – only to have Loui Eriksson lift his skate at the wrong moment and put the play offside.

Some last-minute heroics from Quinn Hughes in the offensive zone had Timo Meier falling all over himself, culminating in a holding call against Meier and the Canucks’ first powerplay of the game.

Both Pettersson and Bo Horvat came close to capitalizing on the scant few seconds of time left in the frame, and the Canucks went into the intermission with 1:41 left on Meier’s minor – plenty of time to do something about that pesky 2-1 deficit.

Intermission Highlight

Let’s be honest, we all went back to the #BattleOfAlberta for the second intermission, too.

For those of you keeping score at home, the game ended with the Flames winning in a shootout, moving them past the Canucks and into first place in the Pacific Division – for the time being, at least.

3rd Period

The Canucks got Jay Beagle back to start the third period, but what they did not get was a strong showing on the remainder of their powerplay. In fact, the first real chance of the final frame came from Timo Meier shortly after he exited the box.

A few shifts later, Loui Eriksson nearly potted one past a down-and-out Martin Jones, but the Sharks knocked the net off before Eriksson could capitalize on his own rebound – though they escaped without a delay-of-game penalty. They’d have to pay for their transgression in karma instead.

The Lotto Line was reunited once again for the next faceoff, which Elias Pettersson won back to Quinn Hughes. He slid the puck to Tyler Myers, who passed it on to JT Miller, who fired it quickly back to Myers – resulting in a bomb of a shot that beat Jones clean and tied the game at 2-2.

A few shifts later, Marc-Edouard Vlasic carelessly whacked Oscar Fantenberg in the mouth with his stick, sending Fantenberg down the tunnel with an obliterated lip and Vlasic to the box with a four-minute double-minor.

Vancouver’s top powerplay unit got to work and ate up nearly half of the double-minor, generating a few chances, including one that Brock Boeser flubbed on the doorstep. It was the second unit, however, who would really turn up the heat, with Adam Gaudette ringing a puck off the post shortly after hitting the ice.

Moments later, Tanner Pearson dug the puck out of the corner and fed it to Jake Virtanen at the point. Virtanen patiently dangled around the stickless Dylan Gambrell and into the slot before also wiring a puck off the post – and right past Jones for the Canucks first lead of the game, 3-2.

And they weren’t done there.

A scant 59 seconds later, Miller took a shift with the fourth line in Tyler Motte’s absence, and ended up dangling around a few Sharks himself – gaining the high slot and then deftly setting up Jay Beagle in front. Beagle jammed it toward the net and Brandon Sutter took no chances, banging home a puck that was probably going in already for the 4-2 lead.

Looking to further seal the deal, the $13.375 million fourth line of Sutter, Beagle, and Loui Eriksson took a few dozens of seconds off the clock on their next shift with a hard-fought rugby scrum in the corner, leading to an extended segment of scrambly play heading into the game’s final commercial break.

From then on out, it was time for the Canucks to do that thing they’ve been so good at doing lately – putting on the clamps and grinding out a victory the hard way. Try as they might, San Jose just couldn’t generate much in the way of dangerous shots on Markstrom through the game’s waning minutes, prompting them to attempt to pull Jones for the extra attacker with a little under three minutes remaining.

Jones actually came out of the net with about 2:40 left, and of course the Canucks countered with the Insurance Line. It took a little longer – and a few more Markstrom saves – than usual, but soon the inevitable happened and Tanner Pearson fired home yet another empty net goal for the 5-2 lead.

And yes, Bo Horvat and Loui Eriksson got the assists. As if we needed to tell you that.

The Wrap-Up

The thematic throughline of this post-game vibe check is definitely “four.”

Four unanswered goals from the Canucks in the third period.

Four straight wins in regulation.

And, of course, the four-minute minor that made it all possible.

True, all of Oscar Fantenberg, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Motte had to suffer varying degrees of pain in the course of this victory – with Motte’s injury of particular concern – it was a pretty important victory.

The Canucks, and especially Jacob Markstrom, made it perfectly clear that there would be no All-Star hangover. They also firmed up their place atop the Pacific Division standings with the Calgary Flames coming on strong. Five different goal-scorers hit the scoreboard tonight, and none of them were members of the Lotto Line – a strong showing for the team’s depth scoring.

In years past, the Canucks have struggled to beat the teams that everyone thinks they should beat. Actually winning the “winnable” games shouldn’t be discounted as a major step forward for Vancouver.

Fancy Stats At A Glance

 

Gameflow from Canucks at San Jose January 29, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Heatmap from Canucks at San Jose January 29, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Top Performers

Jacob Markstrom

With 38 saves – including that one we felt compelled to include multiple replays of – Markstrom put on quite a show tonight, and he did it hot on the heels of his first ever All-Star Game weekend. It looks like the Canucks can continue to count on MVP-quality play from Markstrom heading into the stretch run, and that’s a good foundation to build some playoff hopes on.

Quinn Hughes

Hughes opened up the scoring for the Canucks with the first road goal of his career, and he played an important role in the Tyler Myers’ marker that kicked off Vancouver’s run of four unanswered. He also led all Canucks skaters in powerplay time with 3:03 and played 19:55 overall, yet another impressive showing from the super-freshman.

JT Miller

No matter where Miller was placed in the lineup tonight, he delivered – driving offense for teammates as diverse as Jay Beagle, Brandon Sutter, and Tyler Myers. Miller was all over the ice, chipping in two assists and doing a great job of doing whatever his coach asked of him.

Next Game

The Canucks get two days off before they’re back on the road for a February 1 matinee matchup in New York against the Islanders. The start-time is 10:00AM PST, and Sportsnet Pacific will provide the broadcast.