Canucks Game Day: Sedins to line up with top prospect Nicklas Jensen as Mason Raymond sidelined for Sharks test
‘Play the game simple, play the game right, and then just work hard,’ says Danish first rounder
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Rarely have the Vancouver Canucks played the San Jose Sharks this late in a National Hockey League season with so many questions and doubts surrounding the clubs.
They led the Western Conference in wins the last four years, and games late in the regular season have always been viewed as potential playoff previews.
But the Sharks, who staggered through a 6-11-6 nosedive after starting the 48-game season with seven straight wins, are far from secure with only a four-point cushion in the playoff race. And the Canucks, who topped NHL standings the last two years, have built their season on a pair of six-game winning streaks and have otherwise looked ordinary.
They're also coming off a dismal game Saturday in Edmonton, where the Canucks fell behind 4-0 on five shots and couldn't score against an Oiler team that is 17th defensively and may not make the playoffs.
“There are some games you just need to throw them in the garbage can and move on, and that was one of the games,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said after the morning skates. “It was just one of those games, every chance they got ended up in the net.”
“Based on what I'm hearing from the Vancouver media, I'm not sure Edmonton is getting enough credit for how well they played,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “Teams have those nights. What's a little bit scary for us is that we play (the Canucks) the next game. We know they're not going to have two of those nights in a row, so we better be prepared.”
The Sharks have won four straight games, outscoring opponents 14-5, to climb back into playoff position. The Canucks' second six-game tear ended in Edmonton.
But they'll play tonight without key secondary scorer Mason Raymond, who has a sore shoulder and joins old second-line mates Ryan Kesler and David Booth on the injured list.
In an attempt to prop up the offence, 2011 first-round draft pick Nicklas Jensen makes his NHL debut. Considered the best prospect in the Canucks organization, he'll skate on the first line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Winger Alex Burrows has been bumped to the second line and will centre Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen. Winger Bill Sweatt, recalled with Jensen from minor-league Chicago, skates on the third line.
“I do put a lot of pressure on myself,” Jensen, who just turned 20, said. “I don't want to go out there and just be OK. I want to prove that I can play, and work hard and prove to the coaching staff that I can be up here. I want to put pressure on myself to go out there and have a good game. But, then again … it is your first game. Play the game simple, play the game right, and then just work hard.”
There will be enormous pressure on Jensen in the next couple of years, partly because suspect drafting has left the aging Canucks with very few genuine prospects in their system.
“I see it more as a great opportunity,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “When I saw him on the ice this morning, he was excited. It's one game. It's tonight. His focus has to be on that and going out there and enjoying the moment.
“This is a big step for the young man. He's going to play with Hank and Danny and we'll see what happens.”
The Sharks also have a player making his NHL debut: Matt Tennyson, a college free agent who will be the first player from the Bay Area to play for San Jose.
Tennyson moved from Minnesota to nearby Pleasanton, Calif., as a teenager and spent two years of minor hockey in the Junior Sharks program.
Canuck Cory Schneider and Shark Antti Niemi are the starting goalies.
Sharks — G Thomas Greiss (neck).
Canucks — C Ryan Kesler (foot), LW Mason Raymond (shoulder), RW David Booth (ankle), RW Dale Weise (shoulder), D Keith Ballard (foot).
• PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Sharks — D Brent Burns is playing as a forward on Joe Thornton's first line, and has 10 points in nine games up front.
Canucks — RW Nicklas Jensen is not only Vancouver's best prospect, but one of their few good ones. He'll be on the 30th-ranked power play.
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