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Sharks begin Canadian road trip by facing Canucks

by Brian Hunter
SHARKS (26-13-5) at CANUCKS (28-15-4)


Last 10:
San Jose 7-2-1; Vancouver 5-3-2

Season Series:
Fourth and final meeting of the season. The previous three games have all gone to the road team by a 3-2 final score, the last two requiring more than 60 minutes to decide. Andrew Ebbett scored 3:23 into overtime to give the Canucks the win in San Jose on Dec. 28, while Michal Handzus had the shootout winner five days later as the Sharks got some revenge in Vancouver.

Big Story:
It's almost starting to feel like the playoffs again, with the Sharks and Canucks meeting for the third time in under four weeks. Vancouver eliminated San Jose in five games to reach last spring's Stanley Cup Final and continued its mastery until the Sharks broke through in their first meeting of 2012. With this once again shaping up as a potential Western Conference matchup at some point during the upcoming postseason, each team would like to feel it has captured the upper hand by emerging victorious in Saturday's matinee.

Team Scope:

This is the start of a three-game road trip through western Canada for San Jose, which has lost two of its last three and endured a bit of a goal drought of late. Matched up against an Ottawa squad that entered Thursday having tied a franchise mark with at least a point in 10 straight road games, the Sharks got off to a fast start on Brad Winchester's goal at 3:10 of the first period. But it was all Senators from there, as their five All-Star representatives combined for 3 goals and 3 assists in dealing the Sharks a 4-1 loss.

"We had some chances to score early on, and we felt we probably could have had a couple that could have changed the look of the game," captain Joe Thornton said. "But it seemed like they only had six or seven chances and they made good on a lot of them. For whatever reason, it just wasn't bouncing our way tonight."

A six-game homestand for Vancouver hasn't gotten off to the desired start, as the Canucks have captured just one out of a possible four points so far. They got the consolation prize out of Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings, rallying from a pair of one-goal deficits on tallies by Daniel Sedin and David Booth. Roberto Luongo turned in a strong effort by stopping 39 of 41 shots during regulation and overtime, but he yielded goals on two of the Kings' three attempts in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.

"I think it's been a pretty hectic schedule the last little while," Luongo said, "so it's going to be nice to have a couple of days to regroup and get ready for the last couple of games before the All-Star break."

Who's Hot:
Dan Boyle has 8 assists in his last six games for the Sharks. … Alexandre Burrows has 2 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak for the Canucks. Luongo has allowed two goals or less in five of his last six starts, posting a .938 save percentage over that span.

Injury Report:
San Jose forwards Ryane Clowe (head) and Tommy Wingels (undisclosed) are day-to-day. Defenseman Jim Vandermeer (upper body) and forward Martin Havlat (hamstring) are on injured reserve. … Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo (concussion) is out indefinitely. Ebbett (collarbone) is on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Sharks goalie Antti Niemi has already reached the 20-win mark for the third straight season and has 82 wins in just 137 career games. … The Canucks have the NHL's top-ranked power play (23.8 percent) and seventh-ranked penalty kill (86.3 percent).

Puck Drop:
Since beating the Bruins in Boston to win the rematch of their Cup Final series from last June, Vancouver is just 2-2-1 and has needed to go beyond regulation to record both wins.

"Sometimes what happens in the dressing room and what is said in the dressing room has to stay there, but I've got a very professional and mature group and we've got three days here until San Jose to get ready," coach Alain Vigneault said following Tuesday's loss to Los Angeles.
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