Logan Couture had quite an afternoon for himself in Vancouver as he netted two goals (including one short handed), and made a critical save in the third period to assist Antti Niemi. Unfortunately for the San Jose Sharks, Couture’s heroics were not enough as two late goals by the Canucks in the third period gave home standing Vancouver a hard fought 4-3 victory. The game was the first of a three game Western Canada trip for team teal who battled hard against the Canucks only to fall short against their northwestern rival for the 10th time in 13 games counting last years Western Conference Final. The Sharks loss was their second straight and third in their last four games after a 7-2-1 run before last Sunday in Chicago.
The game was an interesting watch for not just Couture’s day and a furious third period goal scoring barrage, but also for featuring Joe Pavelski getting his first career NHL fighting major late in the second period as he and the Canucks’ Keith Ballard engaged in some fisticuffs. For the Canucks, Cody Hodgson had a big day himself scoring twice including what turned out to be the game winner. Both goalies had a busy day as well, with the Canucks Roberto Luongo making 27 saves while Niemi had 23 saves. All four games between the two teams this season have been decided by one goal, with the Canucks taking three of those games much to the shagrin of team teal.
How The Days Events Unfolded:
Weren’t We Just Here? – This was the third time the Sharks and Canucks faced each other in 25 days, and the Sharks second visit to British Columbia in 19 days. The Rogers Arena recently has been a house of horrors for team teal, and the start of this game served to be a reminder of that. This time, it took the Canucks just 66 seconds to get on the board as Vancouver took control of the puck from the opening face-off and immediately pressured the Sharks in their defensive zone. The Canucks’ Chris Higgins retrieved a puck behind the Sharks goal, then sent it out towards Alexander Elder. From there Elder drilled a slap shot that was tipped off the stick of David Booth and into the net to Niemi’s right. The Canucks continued to apply pressure in the Sharks zone. Niemi, being awakened by the first goal would rally himself and made several saves as Vancouver continued to dominate early. The Sharks in fact did not even register a single shot on goal until the nine minute mark of the period.
Couture Steps Forward - Late in the first period, more trouble appeared to be on the horizon for the Sharks as the bench would draw a whistle for too many men on the ice giving Vancouver a power play opportunity. Almost a minute into the man advantage, Andrew Desjardins intercepted a feed pass from Dan Hamhuis and immediate fed the puck to a wide open Couture on a breakaway. Couture was able to get Luongo to commit to his right, and slid the puck into the open area of the net to tie the game. The goal silenced the Canucks crowd as Vancouver gave up it’s first short handed goal in 24 games. For Couture, this was his second short handed goal of the season. As the first period would wind down, the Sharks caught a break as Daniel Sedin would take a penalty late for tripping Torrey Mitchell.
The penalty to D Sedin would carry over into the second period and the Sharks would make the most of this power play. Just a minute into the period Joe Thonrton took a feed pass from Pavelski at the blue line and carried it up to where he could feed Couture. Upon receiving Thornton’s pass, Couture then managed to squeeze the puck between Luongo and the goal post, just getting it in to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Couture’s second goal of the game was also his 20th of the season.
Not Long Lasting – The Sharks now leading seemed to be in good position to try and build on the hard earned lead. However, that was not to be the case as the lead only would last for the next 3:24. Off a face-off in the Sharks zone, the Canucks Aaron Rome took the feed pass, then immediately sent it towards Mason Raymond. In turn, Raymond drilled a shot that Niemi saved. However, Niemi could not control the rebound and an alert C Hodgson was first to the loose puck and drilled it into the net to tie the game again at 2-2. The rest of the second period would be fairly even with each team going back and fourth. The Sharks along the way successfully killed off two more Canucks power plays in the process. Towards the end of the period is where Pavelski and Ballard started fighting, with Ballard seemingly getting the best of the deal. This is where the Sharks really seem to miss Ryane Clowe the most. With Clowe out of the line up, it seems as if opponents are taking more liberties against team teal.
Fast & Furious Third - The third period started out with the Sharks picking up the pace and were presented with a good number of scoring chances. Luongo was a very tough customer and the Canucks were able to answer defensively. Meanwhile, the Canucks also had some good opportunities and challenged Niemi and the Sharks defense throughout the period as well. In this period, the Sharks would learn that Couture would have more than just a goal scoring touch. As it turns out, Couture is not a bad goalie either. With 10:41 left in the final period, Hamhuis took a shot on goal which Niemi saved but could not control the rebound. The puck bounced over towards Henrik Sedin who seemingly had a wide open net as a target. However, Couture had other ideas and came across the goal crease to put his body in front of the puck as H Sedin shot it, with the puck bouncing off of Couture’s leg and preventing a sure goal.
The game itself would take a strange turn late as just under the six minute mark three goals would score over a 92 second time frame. The first one came when the Sharks off of an offensive charge would fail to keep the puck in their zone. Ryan Kesler would take the loose puck and go up ice as the Canucks had a two on one breakaway. With Chris Higgins flanked to his right, Kesler would keep the puck and launch a wrist shot that beat Niemi top shelf to give Vancouver the lead back. The Sharks this time however were able to respond by taking the face off and immediately getting pressure in the Vancouver zone. Behind the Canucks goal Desjardins was able to hand the puck over to Pavelski, who then found Dan Boyle heading towards the net. Boyle would take Pavelski’s feed pass and try to stuff the puck past Luongo. The first attempt was unsuccessful, but Boyle did not give up on the play and was able to collect the rebound before Luongo could snag it, and put the puck into the net to tie that game 36 seconds after the Canucks had taken the lead.
Off of the face-off, the Sharks failed to carry the momentum from Boyle’s goal and found themselves again trapped in their own zone. 56 seconds after the Sharks got the tying goal, Hodgson was able to get a bad angle shot on net that actually hit the stick of Michal Handzus. The deflection directed the puck underneath Niemi and the Canucks again had the lead at 4-3. Though the Sharks a few chances afterward, the Canucks were able to successfully keep team teal at bay and now allow for any more decent shot attempts on Luongo. The Canucks were able to kill the clock and any chance for the Sharks to pick up at least one point in the Western Conference Standings.
Game Assessment – To the Sharks credit they did battle throughout this game, though in the beginning it seemed they were a little late to the party perhaps not being use to the early 1pm start time. Couture despite the Sharks loss may if nothing else made an argument for himself as the team’s MVP this season irregardless of how this campaign ends up. Couture was relentless in his pursuit of the puck and was one of the main reasons the Sharks were competitive in this game. However, as good as Couture is, he cannot do it alone. Niemi for the second straight game gave up four goals and seemed early to be a bit tired. The last goal given up was just bad luck and one of those things that can happen in any game. Niemi did withstand a barrage of shots by the Canucks early and held his own until late in the third period, and actually had a better game than Thursday night against Ottawa. All and all the Sharks as a team fought until the last seconds had ticked away. What may be of a bigger concern maybe one that’s down the road. When you add up the number of losses to Vancouver, Chicago and St Louis, one has to think that if the post season is in the cards for team teal (and it likely will be), the smart money says the Sharks will have to go through at least one of these teams (if not two). Right now the Sharks are 2-6-1 against these three teams and that’s one thing that will have to change. Just a thought…
Up Next – The Sharks from here head to Edmonton for a Monday Night match up against the Oilers. The two teams met at The Tank on December 17th, with the Sharks taking that match-up 3-2. The Oilers started out the season playing some solid hockey. However, they are a very young team going through some growing pains and have fallen to 14th in the Western Conference Standings. The Oilers are lead by Taylor Hall, who is back after a head injury sustained over a week ago. Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones are amongst the Oilers scoring leaders. In net for Edmonton, veteran Nikolai Khabibulin who has started most of the Oilers games this season. Khabibulin has a .910 save percentage, and is backed up by Devan Dubnyk who has a .902 save percentage. The Sharks need to go into this game rested and ready to take care of business as standings points are going to start becoming critical now and after next weekends All Star break.
PS: Go 49ers!!! – For Sunday’s NFC Championship, Go 49ers!!! Beat the NY Giants!!!
GO SHARKS & 49ERS!!!
The King Shark
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