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Western elite meet as Sharks host Canucks

by Matthew Mankiewich
CANUCKS (43-16-9) at SHARKS (39-22-6)

TV -- SNET-Pacific (HD), CSN-California (HD)

Last 10
-- Vancouver 6-4-0, San Jose 9-1-0

Season series -- Two of the three played so far have gone Vancouver's way. The Sharks' lone win came at Rogers Arena on Jan. 20 when they won 2-1 in a shootout.

Big story -- Two of the top teams in the Western Conference meet -- and both are on a roll. The Sharks have won nine of 10 and opened up some space in the Pacific Division and moved within two points of the Red Wings for the second seed. The Canucks are back on track after alternating losses for a dozen games -- they've won the first three games on their current five-game road trip.

Team scope

-- After spending most of the season at the top of the conference virtually unchallenged, the Canucks have turned things up in this current road trip, taking a tour of the Pacific Division and
grabbing wins in Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

"We've been finding different ways to win so far on this road trip, which is nice," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "We've been playing some solid hockey, I think, not giving up too much and getting timely
goals, which is very important at this stage of the season."

Sharks -- When a team is playing at this level, there's a lot going right and very little going wrong. Still, a 1-for-12 stretch on the power play caught coach Todd McLellan's attention, and he made some changes, moving Ian White to the point on the first unit, shifting Jason Demers and Justin Braun to the second defense pair. Up front, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley traded places on the first and second units.

The result: The Sharks went 1-for-2 in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win against Nashville, with Braun coming up with the goal. Ryane Clowe liked what he saw overall.

"In the third period, we had a couple real good chances and I don't know how it stayed out actually," he told the San Jose Mercury News. "It was nice to see the power play look sharp. Not every night are you going to score, but I think what the coaches look at is if we're crisp and if we're building momentum and we were certainly doing that in the third."

Who's hot -- Dan Hamhuis isn't relied on heavily for scoring, but he's had a breakout on this trip. His second goal of the night was the overtime winner in Phoenix. He also went plus-4 in the weekend wins at Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Sedin twins have 10 points between them on this trip, and both assisted on Hamhuis' winning goal. Each has 6 points in five-game streaks against the Sharks. … Heatley has 7 points in his last five games, while Patrick Marleau has goals in three straight games, including the overtime winner on Tuesday -- his second in a row against Nashville.

Injury report -- Canucks forward Mason Raymond sat out Tuesday's game after hurting his shoulder in Anaheim, but has resumed skating and could be ready to go. Newly acquired Chris Higgins could make his Canucks debut, while defenseman Kevin Bieksa is back skating after breaking his foot and could return to the lineup next week. … Sharks defenseman and power-play mainstay Dan Boyle has missed five games with an upper-body injury; he's skating but remains day-to-day. Forward Scott Nichol (upper body) is on injured reserve but skating, as is defenseman Kent Huskins

Stat pack -- Luongo carries a 0.96 goals-against average in two starts against the Sharks, but Cory Schneider may get the start after shutting out the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday. He's 1-1-0 with a 5.99 GAA in two career starts versus the Sharks. … San Jose's Antti Niemi is 9-1-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average in his last 10 starts, but has a 3.60 GAA in three games against Vancouver this season.

Puck drop -- "It seems like every night we're playing against measure sticks like Detroit. But Vancouver clearly has established itself as the go-to team right now. They do a lot of things well. Their specialty teams are both at the top. Their goals for and goals against is the same way. They have incredible depth. It's a test for any team." -- McLellan in the Mercury News on facing the best team in the

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