Sizing up the Vancouver Canucks’ Division Rivals: San Jose Sharks

The Vancouver Canucks always seem to have fits when playing San Jose. The 2011 Western Conference Final dismantling aside, Vancouver struggles against the Sharks. Long gone are the days where Vancouver’s division games were against teams they could easily beat in the Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers. Now the Canucks have to see the dreaded Sharks even more often.

Yet, while Vancouver has had its trouble with San Jose, the Sharks seem to be the only other team in the Pacific Division with as many question marks going forward as the Canucks have. Is Todd McLellan the right man to finally lead them out of their playoff slump? Is Joe Thornton a good enough leader? What about goaltending?

If Vancouver, or any other Pacific Division team, were going to capitalize on some games against the Sharks, now is the season to do it.

Nov 7, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Brad Richardson (15) scores against San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Brad Richardson (15) scores against San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Year’s Record and Dates to Remember

A lot of the questions, actually almost all of them, are just background noise that won’t totally affect the product on the ice. Make no mistake; San Jose is still a very good team. They just haven’t seen this amount of turmoil in recent years. The Canucks’ know San Jose is still a good squad because they have only one win against them in the last two years.

This season’s match ups:

November 6th in San Jose

December 30th in San Jose

February 5th in Vancouver

March 3rd in Vancouver

March 7th in San Jose

The Sharks have home ice advantage in this year’s season series and that does not bode well for Vancouver. While the Canucks’ last win against the Sharks was in San Jose, the SAP center is as formidable an away barn as there is in the Western Conference.

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The amount of games played in San Jose puts that much more importance on the home ties for Vancouver. The Canucks will have to take points away from the Sharks in Rogers Arena if they are to have any chance of the playoffs.

As with the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks do not face San Jose down the stretch, which is helpful because Vancouver will need all the points it can get heading into the playoffs. Vancouver probably wouldn’t get all the points it needs in a game at the SAP center in early April, which could have put a damper on playoff expectations.

Which Team Will Figure it out First?

The Sharks, as mentioned previously, are in a state of flux. They faced the dreaded rebuild or retool crossroad over the summer and didn’t really go down either path. The biggest move they made, personnel wise, was removing Joe Thornton’s captaincy. They don’t even have alternate captains.

Vancouver on the other hand, had plenty of issues of their own, and decisively went down the retool path while trying to incorporate some of their young talent into the squad.

None of this says which team is in a better off position. San Jose definitely has a better chance to make the playoffs this year, but Vancouver may have set itself up for a better future. The latter, of course, is arguable and this season will tell which team is in a better state moving forward.

San Jose features two incredibly talented young players in Tomas Hertl and Alex Stalock. Each showed flashes of brilliance in their first extended stay in the NHL and if the Sharks get off to a fast start, all the background noise of the offseason will be forgotten.

The same goes for Vancouver. The Canucks have intriguing prospects in Hunter Shinkaruk and Bo Horvat as well as talented young goalie Eddie Lack. If Vancouver’s mixture of added veteran pieces and young talent gets this team on the right track, everyone outside of the organization will feel a lot better about where the team is headed.

When the two teams meet in each game, the matchup will serve as a measuring stick for the other to compare which team has put their turbulent offseason behind the quickest, and with most success.

The Key Match up of the Series: Size and Physicality

The most pointed to reason the Canucks struggles against San Jose is the size disparity. Vancouver can’t matchup against Jumbo Joe and his powerful friends. This disparity is where newly acquired defenseman Lucas Sbisa comes in.

Lucas Sbisa stands 6’2 and weighs in at 207lbs and Willie Desjardins will implore the Italian to use his size in a more physical manner, an aspect the Canucks’ defense lacks. Dan Hamhus is about Sbisa’s size but doesn’t play overly physical. Kevin Bieksa is a physical force, but lacks the size.

*(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
*(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

Joe Thornton is 6’4 at 230lbs and Patrick Marleau stands 6’2 at 220lbs. Both are big, skilled and can put the puck in the net. Left physically unopposed, these two can run roughshod over teams, like they have the past few years against Vancouver.

Putting the entire season series on the shoulders of Sbisa is a tad unfair, but his physicality on the defense end will set the tone for Vancouver. Sbisa’s physicality can help in stopping the Sharks’ best offensive weapons.

Check out The Hockey Writers tomorrow for a look at the match up between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings.