Programming note: Canucks-Sharks coverage starts Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE -- The Pacific Division standings are tight, and that's not expected to change for the final three-and-a-half months of the regular season.
In fact, after Anaheim (54 points), the Sharks, Canucks and Kings all check in with 43 points, although Vancouver has two games in hand on San Jose and Los Angeles.
That makes Tuesday’s meeting between the Sharks and Canucks in San Jose one of those proverbial four-point games.
“You lose a game, you go down. You win a game, you go up. That’s the way it’s going to be until we play LA the last game of the year,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic, referring to the Sharks closing out the regular season on April 11 at Staples Center.
[RELATED: NHL standings]
The Sharks have lost two straight games (0-1-1), both against divisional opponents. They blew a chance to get closer to the Ducks on Dec. 22 in a 3-2 overtime loss, and on Saturday the Kings outclassed San Jose, 3-1, perhaps taking advantage of a Sharks team that had a strange travel day due to the mandatory time off for Christmas.
Although the Sharks played well in the loss to the Ducks, their game wasn’t where it needed to be against the Kings. They’ll need it to improve against Vancouver, which has strongly rebounded from a non-playoff year in 2013-14 and is 2-0-1 in its last three.
“It’s nice to get two practice days in,” said Vlasic, who still wouldn’t use the Christmas break as an excuse for the team’s poor outing against the Kings.
The Sharks and Canucks have met once this year, with Vancouver claiming a 3-2 victory at SAP Center on Nov. 6. San Jose outshot Vancouver 36-19 in the game -- including 80 shot attempts to just 23 by the Canucks -- but Ryan Miller was sensational in net, stealing the two points for his club.
No matter Tuesday’s outcome, the two rivals teams will likely be battling for position from here on out, and are potential first round playoff opponents.
Vancouver has turned it around from a poor season under John Tortorella, bringing in new head coach Willie Desjardins.
“The whole presentation of it being new and different I think has given them a new sense of life,” Todd McLellan said. “They look more like the team that we expected them to look like. They’ve got some good goaltending, they’ve got their Sedin line no matter who plays there seems to have a good year -- [Radim] Vrbata is doing that. The penalty kill has been extremely good.
“They are very capable of challenging anybody in the league right now. They’re that good of a team.”
As for the loss to Vancouver more than seven weeks ago, McLellan said: “They didn’t have a lot of opportunities, but we were sloppy enough to give them enough to win.”
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One player the Sharks could use a little bit more from offensively is Patrick Marleau. The 35-year-old has just two goals in his last 21 games, and no points in his last six. Prior to that, Marleau was on a six-game point streak, with one goal and five assists over that span.
McLellan didn’t seem overly concerned.
“He is a streaky guy that takes one and he might run 10 off in 11 games, or something like that,” said the coach. “We’ve got to get him the one.
“What we don’t want is him to cheat to score. He’s playing against the other team’s top lines. He’s accepted that responsibility of shutting other guys down, so we have to give him some credit there, as well. But, he wants to score. He comes to the rink and he wants to score. He thinks that’s his way to contribute, and it’s one of the ways. It will come.”
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Matt Nieto didn’t experience any setbacks from his ankle injury, so expect him to make his return from a nine-game absence against Vancouver.
[RELATED: Nieto says he's 'good to go']
Where he skates is to be determined, but at practice on Monday he rotated in with Tomas Hertl on the left of the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line.
Alex Stalock took extra work at Monday’s practice, so early indications are Antti Niemi will start in net.