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Sharks back home to face surging Canucks

by Brian Hunter /
CANUCKS (24-8-5) at SHARKS (21-13-5)


Last 10:
Vancouver 9-0-1; San Jose 6-3-1

Season series: Second of four meetings this season. Mikael Samuelsson scored twice and the Canucks used a three-goal third period to turn a close game into a decisive 6-1 win over the Sharks on Nov. 26 in Vancouver.

Big story: While San Jose has been playing solid hockey as it pursues Dallas for its usual perch atop the Pacific Division, white-hot Vancouver has moved into a four-way tie for the NHL lead in points and opened up an eight-point cushion over Colorado in the Northwest. That's tied with Detroit in the Central for the largest lead in any division.

Team Scope:

Canucks: It's a sign of how things have gone for Vancouver during its current stretch of 12 consecutive games with at least one point that Mason Raymond was credited with the game-winning goal in Sunday's 2-1 win over Colorado after he missed the previous 10 games with a broken thumb. The Canucks' other goal came courtesy of Alexandre Bolduc, his first NHL goal, and Roberto Luongo finished with 31 saves.

"We're one of the best teams," Luongo said. "Obviously it's only the regular season, but we're playing in all types of games and finding ways to win. Come playoff time we know it's going to get gritty, so we'll be preparing for what's to come."

It took some time for Antti Niemi to get acclimated in San Jose, and his current goals-against average (2.91) and save percentage (.904) aren't up to par with what he put during his Stanley Cup season in Chicago, but the second-year netminder has been playing some of his best hockey as the season approaches the midway point. Niemi has won three of his last four starts, punctuated by a 29-save performance in a 1-0 win over Los Angeles on Saturday.

"To keep that team off the scoreboard was a pretty good accomplishment on our behalf," coach Todd McLellan said. "Niemi was tremendous. He's been in some very pressure-type situations in his young career, and I thought he looked very comfortable in the net."

Who's hot: Luongo, who has started just twice since Dec. 22 as he spent some extra time with his wife who recently gave birth, is 11-1-1 in his last 13 starts for the Canucks, allowing two goals or fewer 10 times. ... Setoguchi has goals in two of his last three games for the Sharks.

Injury report: Vancouver is missing defenseman Sami Salo (Achilles) and forwards Guillaume Desbiens (hand) and Rick Rypien (personal). ... San Jose forwards Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell are day-to-day with lower-body injuries, while forward John McCarthy (upper body) is on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Bolduc also had an assist against the Avalanche, doubling his career point total -- in 35 previous games for the Canucks over parts of three seasons, he had 2 assists. ... The Sharks return home after winning their League-best 109th road game in 195 tries since the beginning of the 2006-07 season.

Puck drop:
San Jose just completed a stretch in which it played 13 of 18 away from HP Pavilion and the players and coaches are excited to be back in familiar surroundings. At the same time, McLellan is aware of the challenge Vancouver presents.

"They're probably the hottest team in the League and maybe the best team in the League right now," he told the San Jose Mercury News. "The last time we played them, the gap between the two teams was significant, and we'd like to close the gap."

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