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IWTG: Canucks offence continues to sputter, Sharks eke out first win for new head coach Bob Boughner

Canucks 2 - 4 Sharks
IWTG Banner - 2019-20

The San Jose Sharks are a mess.

The Sharks came into this game on a six-game losing streak, which prompted the firing of head coach Peter DeBoer. They have the second-worst goals against per game in the NHL, combined with a bottom-10 goals for, resulting in the Western Conference’s worst goal differential.

Their goaltenders, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, have the second and fifth-worst save percentages among goaltenders with at least 10 games played. They leak goals against like water through a colander.

Of course, they haven’t been helped much by their defence. Despite limiting shots against, the Sharks have the fourth-highest expected goals against rate at 5-on-5: they give up a ton of scoring chances from dangerous areas. Combine that with their shoddy goaltending and it’s a recipe for disaster.

And yet, the Canucks couldn’t score a single goal until halfway through the third period. It looked like they were about to let Dell and the Sharks shut them out until Jake Virtanen finally broke through with 12 minutes left in the game. With 29 seconds left, Bo Horvat even added another goal to make the score more respectable, but it was too little, too late.

It’s a little embarrassing that the Canucks couldn’t muster more offence against such a fragile team, but, to be fair, other teams have done worse against the Sharks. The Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders, and Los Angeles Kings have all had games against the Sharks this season where they only managed one goal. So, it could have been worse. One goal worse.

What’s more concerning is that this comes on the heels of two-straight games with just one goal. The Canucks’ offence seems to run hot and cold, scoring 5+ goals in one stretch, then struggling to find the back of the net the next stretch of games. It’s a frustrating phenomenon that has prevented them from stringing wins together and has seen them slide down the standings.

The Canucks are now just two points up on the Sharks, albeit with two games in hand. No one should flip the pooldo the panic, or freak out just yet, but maybe some mild concern would be appropriate. They’re starting to look a little worse than mediocre, and that just won’t do.

I experienced some light unease when I watched this game.

  • Jacob Markstrom, at least, was on his game. He was only in net for two of the Sharks’ four goals, and neither one could be pinned on him. Beyond that, Markstrom was solid, particularly on the Sharks’ long shifts in the offensive zone, when they would cycle the puck looking for shots from the slot. Markstrom kept the Canucks in the game as long as he could, which is all you can ask.
  • After getting promoted to the top line during the Canucks’ last game, Jake Virtanen started the game alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, with Brock Boeser bumped to the third line with Adam Gaudette and Antoine Roussel. It didn’t last. The two lines didn’t really click, so Virtanen and Boeser were quickly switched back after the first period and both looked more effective with their more familiar linemates.
  • It looks like we’re entering full-on give-Quinn-Hughes-all-the-minutes mode for the Canucks. Hughes played a whopping 27 minutes flat, a new career high for the rookie defenceman. It’s okay, he’s young, he’s got plenty of energy. If I’ve learned anything from being a father, it’s that youths never get tired; they go straight from being wide awake to dead asleep, with no intervening period of tiredness.
  • The Sharks opened the scoring after Hughes broke his stick, limiting his ability to defend, but the truly questionable defensive play came from Tyler Myers, who made a bad read going down to the ice instead of following Tomas Hertl to the far post. With Hughes missing his stick, he couldn’t go with Hertl because he wouldn’t be able to tie him up, and Joe Thornton, one of the best passers in NHL history, had no issue avoiding Myers’ lengthy body splayed on the ice to set up the goal.
  • The biggest issue for the Canucks was the complete lack of shots in the first half of the game. Through 30 minutes, the Canucks had just 9 shots on goal, and one of them was a clearance on the penalty kill by Chris Tanev that happened to go on net. The Canucks were getting shots like a kid in Kindergarten: reluctantly and with a lot of protests and tears.
  • Then, suddenly, the shots came bursting out from the Canucks, like a bottle of diet coke filled with Mentos. Within the space of four minutes, the Canucks doubled their shot total to 18. The Canucks out-shot the Sharks 26-to-11 in the second half of the game. They just couldn’t score.
  • The two best chances for the Canucks in the third period were set up by one of the best offensive defencemen in the NHL. No, not Quinn Hughes; I’m talking about Erik Karlsson. He set up J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser with perfect, on-the-tape passes, giving Miller a one-timer and Boeser a point-blank chance on the backhand. He’s an incredible playmaker, that Karlsson.
  • The Canucks were finally gaining some momentum when Karlsson created a chance for his own team to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead. He sprung a 3-on-2, then a quick criss-cross by Timo Meier and Evander Kane made them jump, jump, and also opened up Meier for a one-timer, which he put just under the bar, a nigh-unstoppable shot.
  • Less than a minute later, the Canucks responded, as they finally figured out Dell: it’s her undeniable soulfulness and talent combined with songwriting that connects with universal feelings of regret and loss. Wait, that’s Adele. Let’s start over.
  • Less than a minute later, the Canucks responded, as they finally figured out Dell. Gaudette made a nice move in the neutral zone to gain the Sharks’ blue line, then kept control as two Sharks (doo doo doo doo doo doo) tried to corral him. He snuck a pass through to Jake Virtanen, who took advantage of the distraction provided by Antoine Roussel going to the net to send a perfectly-placed shot over Dell’s left pad.
  • The Canucks pushed hard for the tying goal, with Dell barely getting enough of a Pettersson chance to send it wide of the post on the Canucks’ best opportunity. Unfortunately, the Sharks scored into the empty net off a turnover by Josh Leivo. It took the Sharks four tries to score, as the Canucks kept blocking like they were Kevin Bieksa on Twitter, but Kane eventually scored.
  • It seemed like the game was all over, but Bo Horvat made like Herbert West and gave them some life. Hughes flung a wrist shot through traffic and Dell gave up a bad rebound, as if he was a goaltender with a sub-.900 save percentage or something. Horvat moved the rebound to his forehand and tucked it in the open net to pull the Canucks within one with 29 seconds left.
  • Just like that provided by Herbert West, it was false life: the Sharks scored into the empty net again after a long pass by Miller took an unkind hop off Leivo’s stick to Marc-Edouard Vlasic and he fed Logan Couture for the goal.