The Vancouver Canucks face a difficult task in catching the San Jose Sharks for third place in the Pacific Division. Due to some strange scheduling, however, the Canucks have a chance to quickly make up some ground.
In the first of three meetings over seven days, the Canucks look for a season-high third straight victory Sunday in this initial 2015-16 matchup with the visiting Sharks.
Though Vancouver (24-24-12) is one spot behind San Jose, which owns the final playoff spot in the division, 10 points separate the clubs. Since the Canucks also have plenty of ground to make up in the wild-card race, their best bet may be to catch the Sharks (32-22-6).
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The division foes meet five times in the final 22 games with home-and-home sets Thursday and next Saturday and again March 29 and 31. The Canucks took three of the five meetings last season but the Sharks have won seven straight at Vancouver, including the playoffs.
“With San Jose, we just have to make sure we're focused on one game,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. “If we get (this) one we can worry about the next.”
After scoring two goals in five straight games, Vancouver scored five apiece to beat Colorado and Ottawa at home to follow a four-game skid.
“We're starting to roll a little bit,” rookie forward Jake Virtanen told the NHL's official website after he recorded a goal and an assist in Thursday's 5-3 win over the Senators.
While the Canucks have an opportunity to make some progress in the standings over the next week, they also remain realistic and know some key veterans could be dealt prior to Monday's trade deadline.
Fifth on the team with 24 points, Radim Vrbata remains the subject of various trade rumors though he could miss a second straight contest with a lower-body injury. There's also a strong chance defenseman Dan Hamhuis will be traded.
“It's not where you want to be, you want to be fighting for a playoff spot and not seeing all the speculation that's out there,” said Hamhuis, who has six assists and is a plus-4 in 36 games during a season where he missed 21 contests after taking a puck to the face.
San Jose acquired veterans Roman Polak and Nick Spaling from Toronto earlier this week. Spaling scored in Wednesday's 4-3 shootout loss at Colorado, which the Sharks followed with a 3-1 home defeat to Buffalo on Friday. The latter snapped a season-high nine-game home point streak for San Jose, which is four points behind second-place Anaheim in the Pacific.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored on the Sharks' first shot 1:28 into Friday's game, but they finished with 25 – 5.1 less than their season average.
“We came out with a great start but were unable to build on it,” San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said.
The Sharks failed to draw a penalty for the second time in four games. Though they were never a man down Friday during the first game in club history where no penalties were called, their three previous opponents went 4 for 7 on the power play.
Vancouver is 5 for 15 with the man advantage in its last five contests.
Ryan Miller's seven-game winning streak against the Sharks ended with a 5-1 home loss Feb. 5 of last year.