Short-handed Canucks look to fend off rested Sharks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Traditionally, a team feels refreshed coming off a five-day break — but the Vancouver Canucks are actually weaker.
The Canucks revealed Friday that several players have shown symptoms of the mumps, including one confirmed case. As a result, at least four teammates will be sidelined Saturday as the Canucks (26-28-6), who have been off on the NHL-mandated five-day break since Sunday, host the San Jose Sharks (35-18-7) at Rogers Arena.
“We’re taking this very seriously, given how easily mumps can spread,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a news release. “At this point, Troy Stecher is the only player with a confirmed test result. Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund have each presented symptoms.
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“We’ll continue to follow all protocols in accordance with Vancouver Coastal Health guidelines in order to prevent further infection.”
Sportsnet reported that Stecher, fellow defenseman Tryamkin and forwards Chaput and Granlund will be out of Canucks’ lineup Saturday. Tanev’s status is questionable.
Benning later told reporters that the club has called up forward Alex Grenier and defenseman Evan McEneny from Utica of the American Hockey League. McEneny, in his second pro season, has yet to play an NHL game.
The outbreak comes as the Canucks are struggling to stay in the Western Conference playoff race. They have lost eight of their last 11 games. All of the setbacks have come in regulation time, denying them any points in their quest to get above the playoff bar.
The team was working with health experts, the NHL and the NHL Players Association to minimize the spread of the illness. In keeping with the health experts’ guidelines, the Canucks news release stated, players showing symptoms were immediately being tested and quarantined in isolation. Vaccines were also being administered, dressing rooms were disinfected and other hygiene methods were being used.
Stecher, a rookie who earned a regular spot after beginning the season in the minors and going back down briefly again, has logged heavy minutes and is also a key power play cog. Fellow rearguard Tryamkin has become a regular in his first full NHL season, and Granlund is tied for second in team goal-scoring with a career-high 15 tallies.
Chaput is a fourth liner and penalty killer, while Tanev plays on Vancouver’s top defensive unit and will be a critical loss if he can’t play.
Meanwhile, the Sharks are also coming off their league-mandated break — but in a much healthier position. San Jose leads the Pacific Division with 77 points.
While the Canucks try to get healthy, Sharks icon Joe Thornton will try to make history. He sits two assists shy of 1,000 for his career. With the two or more helpers, he will become only the 13th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-assist mark.
But Thornton is not getting overly excited about his chance to join the exclusive company.
“I think when it arrives, it’ll arrive,” Thornton told The San Jose Mercury-News.
Thornton has six points — four of which were assists — in his last six games. He was held in check Sunday as the Sharks fell 2-1 to Boston, but had a six-game points streak before then. With five goals and 34 assists, he has not matched the point-per-game pace that he enjoyed in 2015-16 while producing 82 points in as many contests.
But he could reach the 60-point mark for the fifth straight season and 16th time in 19 seasons. Except for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Thornton only missed that mark in his first two NHL seasons, in 1997-98 and 1998-99. The 37-year-old center has amassed 1,380 points in 1,427 games over the course of his 19-year career and ranks 23rd all-time in points.
Several players have seen their production increase dramatically while playing alongside him — and nosedive after moving off his line.
“If you’re a righty and you love to shoot the puck,” Sharks center Logan Couture told The San Jose Mercury-News, “he’s the best guy in the world you can play with.”