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Game Day Preview: Hughes returns as Canucks battle reeling Sharks

If you still believe this team can make the playoffs, they better win tonight.

NHL: DEC 16 Canucks at Sharks
Vancouver Canucks Defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) skates with the puck during the NHL pro hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks on December 16, 2021 at the SAP Center in San Jose CA.
Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (21-21-6) vs TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (30-11-3)

SAP CENTER, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

7:30 PM PST

TV: SPORTSNET.

RADIO: SPORTSNET 650

OPPOSING BLOG: FEAR THE FIN

If you’re still clinging onto hope for the Vancouver Canucks to make the playoffs, snagging two points tonight from the struggling San Jose Sharks is an absolute must.

Only the Arizona Coyotes (2-8-0) have been worse than the Sharks (2-5-3) over the past 10 games. San Jose has also lost four in a row, including a brutal performance on home ice against the Edmonton Oilers in their last contest.

If the Sharks can’t score on Stuart Skinner, they might have a tough time against Thatcher Demko.

The Canucks starting netminder is coming off of a 51-save performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Earlier today, Jim Rutherford was asked on Sportsnet 650 about the identity of the Canucks.

His answer was telling.

“We win a number of games because we have a franchise goalie. He makes up for a lot of our shortcomings.”

As bad as San Jose has been lately, they still have a better points percentage (.511) than the Canucks (.510).

The playoffs are unquestionably a longshot, but Vancouver does have three winnable games against divisional opponents coming up on the schedule. That begins tonight in San Jose, followed by home games against the Anaheim Ducks and the Seattle Kraken.

Canucks’ Projected Lineup

After testing positive for COVID-19, Quinn Hughes will return to the lineup tonight. Bruce Boudreau said that either Brad Hunt or Kyle Burroughs will come out of the lineup.

Based on the fact that Hunt was paired with Schenn at the Canucks last practice, we’ll assume he’s the one to come out of the lineup.

Hughes also confirmed that he had no symptoms during his bout with COVID.

Matthew Highmore will also return to the lineup tonight, replacing Alex Chiasson.

Forwards

JT Miller — Bo Horvat — Brock Boeser

Vasily Podkolzin — Elias Pettersson — Nils Hoglander

Tanner Pearson — Jason Dickinson — Conor Garland

Matthew Highmore — Juho Lammikko — Tyler Motte

Defence

Oliver Ekman-Larsson — Tyler Myers

Quinn Hughes — Luke Schenn

Kyle Burroughs — Travis Hamonic

Goaltenders

Starting: Thatcher Demko

Backup: Jaroslav Halak

Out: Tucker Poolman (illness), Alex Chiasson (healthy scratch)

Sharks’ Projected Lineup

Forwards

Timo Meier — Tomas Hertl — Alex Barbanov

Rudolfs Balcers — Logan Couture — Jonathan Dahlen

Andrew Cogliano — Nick Bonino — Noah Gregor

Jeffrey Truchon-Viel — Lane Pederson — Matt Nieto

Defence

Mario Ferraro — Brent Burns

Jacob Middleton — Nicholas Meloche

Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Ryan Merkley

Goaltenders

Starting: James Reimer

Backup: Zach Sawchenko

Out: Kevin Labanc (shoulder), Adin Hill (lower body), Erik Karlsson (forearm), Jaycob Megna (foot), Jonah Gadjovich (healthy scratch), Radek Simek (healthy scratch)

The Canucks will face a couple of familiar faces in this contest. Jonathan Dahlen was making headlines earlier in the season after a hot start. He’s cooled off but he still has 11 goals and 20 points in 42 games, including three goals in his last five.

Nick Bonino is playing a lot (16:43 average time on ice), but his offence has fallen off of a cliff this season. He has five goals and 11 points in 45 games.

Jonah Gadjovich missed two weeks with a concussion earlier in January and aside from that, he’s been in and out of the press box. The 23-year-old leads the Sharks with 50 penalty minutes, but has just two assists in 26 games this season.

Game Day Battle Hymn

If I don’t post again on Nucks Misconduct, you know Kent kicked me off the squad for not picking a metal song.

Hey, if the Canucks want to keep that playoff push alive, they’ll need another moment tonight from someone on the team.

Both Brock Boeser and Nils Hoglander have been snake-bitten at even strength. Those are two guys i have my eye on tonight.

Regardless, let’s go tame the reeling Sharks.