Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Raymond Kirk: Vancouver Canucks / San Jose Sharks Preview

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The 2013 NHL Dress Rehearsal is over, and now it’s time to play for keeps. The Vancouver Canucks will open up the 1st Round of the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks, a familiar post season foe, and the most famous Stanchion goal in NHL History as Kevin Bieksa sent Canuck Nation into a frenzy and a Stanley Cup Final appearance just two seasons ago, dispatching the Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Final.

On the final day of the Western Conference NHL season, it was yet to be determined if the Canucks first round match up would be against the San Jose Sharks, LA Kings or St. Louis Blues. While all three teams are formidable opponents, it is my opinion that Vancouver could not have asked for a better draw than San Jose. Not only have they had recent post season success against San Jose, but both clubs mirror each other’s strengths and weaknesses this season.

Without question, the Sharks have what on paper should be a formidable offensive attack, with the likes of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Devon Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Martin Havlat. Their blue line is solid with Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart, and not to mention Brent Burns, who has transformed his game from being a solid Defenceman into a power forward for this Sharks club, chipping in key points for San Jose as the season has moved along. Yet, with all the weapons the Sharks have at their disposal, offensive production has escaped them this year, as they finished 24th in the NHL in scoring.

If not for the Vezina caliber season of goaltender Antti Niemi, the Sharks would find themselves on the outside looking in this post season. Niemi has been fantastic all year long, stealing many much needed points for San Jose allowing this team to play a lower scoring; low risk system that almost played itself into home ice advantage in the first round? Sound familiar, Canucks fans?

The Canucks, on paper, can go toe-to-toe with San Jose offensively. Although Henrik and Daniel Sedin are far from having a career best offensive year, their two-way game is as good as it’s ever been. Having a healthy Ryan Kesler at this time of year is as good as any NHL Trade Deadline acquisition could be, as to me; this series will go as Kesler goes. If he is healthy, he will cause havoc for the Sharks. It is for Wednesday and beyond why GM Mike Gillis went out and got Derek Roy as a deadline rental, as what he can provide offensively for the Canucks from the 3rd line and 2nd Power play makes Vancouver a dangerous team forwards one through nine, and he has shown that he knows where the other end of the ice is as well and will not be a defensive detriment to this team. The Canucks goaltending from Cory Schneider has been almost as good as what Niemi has produced in San Jose. Schneider has had to steal victory from the jaws of defeat more than should have been required. I feel that goaltending is awash in this series.

To me, the series will be won or lost not on goaltending and offensive production. It will be won on defence and Special Teams. The Canucks blue line has been an enigma all season. The two constants have been Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison. Garrison, who struggled mightily finding his niche the first quarter of the season has found his game and not only is contributing on the score sheet, but has been more than dependable in his own end. Alex Edler could be the key to the whole series, in my eyes. Edler is capable of being the best d-man on either club this round, and maybe should be. Yet his game has been consistently inconsistent this year, with poor decisions on the power play, bad first passes out of his own end which have led to many quality shots against, and poor reads in all zones of the ice, which have bade him a liability more than an asset on too many occasions. The health to Kevin Bieksa is crucial for this team in the playoffs. He is a riverboat gambler, but plays with a mean streak, can chip in with timely offensive production, and be a royal pain for the Sharks top forwards. The loss of Chris ‘Cool’ Tanev hurts, but it appears the Canucks are willing to roll the dice on young Frank Corrado, who did not look out of his element in his first week in the NHL.

Special Teams has been a strength of the Sharks all season long, boasting a top 10 record both Shorthanded and on the Power play this season. It is well chronicled just how anemic the Canucks power play has been this season, yet it showed serious signs of life the last quarter of the season, with the return of Ryan Kesler to the lineup and the addition of Derek Roy. I feel that Jason Garrison has earned his way onto that first unit, yet he has not been able to find himself in that spot. To me, this is a mistake. You have to use your best weapons at this time of the year, and to me, Garrison is a much better fit than Alex Edler at this stage. The Canucks penalty kill has been fantastic down the homestretch. It will need to continue to be so. If it can, it will stifle a Sharks offense that struggled in a big way at 5 on 5 this season.

Prediction? I say the Canucks in 5. Not because San Jose is a weak team and I feel they should be taken lightly. I just feel that this club has shown more consistent success in May hockey than San Jose. (and there is not many teams you can say that about) The goaltending is a wash, in my opinion and I feel the Canucks feel they have just as much to prove as San Jose does. And I’m maybe in the minority, but I am not worried for a second about the health of Cory Schneider when Wednesday rolls around. If there was true fear from the management and coaching staff as to his health, do you really think Roberto Luongo would have even started the last game of the regular season against the Oilers, for fear of losing him to injury and running to the playoffs with Joe Cannata as your #1? I think not. I see many 2-1 or 3-2 games in this series future. Maybe two in OT. But past success, and an equal drive to win when it matters most, along with home ice tells me the Canucks find a way to close this series out in five.

Your thoughts? Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233

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