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Behind Enemy Lines - Previewing the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings

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The Canes begin a western swing with a three game week.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks Andrew Villa-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks

Tuesday, 10:00 p.m. at Rogers Arena

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes begin their lengthy six-game road trip with a date in Vancouver against the Canucks on Tuesday night. While the Canucks are viewed as a rebuilding franchise by most around the league, their current 13-10-4 record has been good enough for the third slot within the Pacific Division, not bad for a team with an interesting, but nonetheless quirky, mix of aging veterans and young, explosive talent.

Perhaps the most exciting development for the Canucks has been the emergence of their 2015 first-round pick, Brock Boeser, as their leading scorer. Just 20 years of age, Boeser has had a wonderful start to his first full season in the NHL. His 25 points in just 24 games has him averaging just a shade over a point per game. Along with Boeser, the other featured youngster on the roster for the Canucks has been Bo Horvat, who had plenty of success against Carolina last season. While Horvat has been counted on to lead the new generation of Canucks for the past few seasons, he appears to now have his running mate in Boeser to finally take the torch of leadership from the Sedin twins over the rest of this season.

While the Canucks do have a few young scorers who have become the centerpiece of the attack along with the other experienced scorers on the roster, the biggest development for the Canucks in terms of success has been the emergence of their goaltending. Jacob Markstrom, along with Anders Nilsson, have put together a solid .916 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average combined. The Canucks are still minus-2 in goal differential, but there is little arguing that the Canucks are a bit better than they were projected to be this season under new head coach Travis Green.

In order for the Canes to be able to handle the Canucks to begin this trip, they will have to improve their defensive cohesiveness to curb the grade A scoring chances they are giving up. If they are able to avoid the defensive breakdowns that have led to great opportunities for opponents at times this season, the Canucks scoring punch is not such that they will create ample dangerous scoring plays on their own.

What to Watch For

  • Former Hurricane Brandon Sutter is questionable to return on Tuesday for the Canucks. While his season has not been particularly potent, he does provide depth at center for Vancouver and provided two goals and two assists in the Canucks’ two games against the Canes a season ago.
  • Expect a lower scoring game while at even strength, lending to the Canes needing to stay stingy defensively. The Canucks have yielded the second-fewest goals at even strength with 46. They are also tied for 26th in goals scored even strength with only 51.

San Jose Sharks

Thursday, 10:30 p.m. at SAP Center in San Jose

Jamie Kellner

The Pacific Division swing continues Thursday in San Jose against the Sharks. And speaking of defensive-oriented teams, the remake of the Sharks has been striking. While pacing the league by only allowing 57 goals in 25 games, the Sharks simply do not yield scoring chances. Sharing in the credit with the incredible blueline led by Brent Burns is the goaltending tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell. While Jones is the clear-cut starter (.926 save percentage, 2.23 goals against), Dell has actually been even better in his 10 games of limited action (.933 save percentage, 1.93 goals against).

On the other side of the ice however, the Sharks have shown a stark difference from the offense that finished fourth in the league in goals scored in their Stanley Cup Final run just two seasons ago. Sitting at 30th in the league in goals with 65, the lack of offensive punch has made it so the Sharks defensive acumen has only resulted in a solid, but unspectacular 14-9-2 record. The same veterans are leading the scoring in San Jose, with veterans Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and former Norris-winner Burns the usual suspects near the top of the score sheet.

The fact that those same veterans are carrying the offense is likely part of the issue. There has not been an influx of youth and scoring talent at the forward positions. Youngsters like Joonas Donskoi, Chris Tierney and Kevin Labanc have contributed, but not in the dosage needed to cure the scoring ills of the Sharks thus far. If the Sharks continue their defensive prowess and are able to wring out a bit more offense from the talent on hand, the Sharks have a chance to be an intriguing, veteran team out West that could give other Western Conference contenders — which, other than the surprising Winnipeg Jets, do not rely on top-end speed—all sorts of fits in the postseason.

In order to win this game, Carolina must fight and scrap against a bigger team for the valuable parts of the ice in front of the net. If they play a comfortable game and keep pucks on the outside offensively, they will find scoring very difficult in the Shark Tank.

What to Watch For

  • This is the type of game that Brock McGinn has a chance to continue to show some of the toughness he has displayed this season so far, and needs to drag along a few teammates into the trenches as well.
  • Goaltending is going to be very important in this game, regardless of who is in net. No one expects that either Scott Darling or Cam Ward will win this game alone, but against a team who struggles scoring and is tough to score upon, there is no room for a soft goal on Thursday in San Jose.

Los Angeles Kings

Saturday, 10:30 p.m. at Staples Center

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

For the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings, this season has been a wonderful reset back to their Stanley Cup form from a few seasons past under new head coach John Stevens. With goal and goal prevention numbers within the top eight of the NHL, they have been a well-rounded team all season long.

Captain Anze Kopitar has exploded at a better than a point per game pace through 28 games, as he has posted a team-leading 14 goals along with 17 assists. All of the typical names in LA have taken lead roles in the early success, with all-world defenseman Drew Doughty, veteran Dustin Brown and of course goalie Jonathan Quick all producing at a high level to push the Kings to the top of the division. Quick and backup Darcy Kuemper have supplied a league-leading .931 save percentage on the season.

That could mean that the Canes could find tough offensive sledding in LA as well, but it certainly will be a good test to see if they can start to produce offense against the leading defenses and netminders in the league. If they can, perhaps some of that confidence will begin to blossom more offensive success the rest of the way for Carolina.

While the Kings have been very effective this season, they have been vulnerable at home in the first few months, posting a middling 6-5-2 record at Staples Center to date. If the Canes are to have any success out west this week, they need to start on time and not allow the defensive-minded teams they are facing to force them to come from behind.

What to Watch For

  • The Kings are riding a five-game winning streak currently in which they have allowed only six goals total. Can the Canes put more offensive pressure on the Kings?
  • The Kings possess the top-rated Penalty Kill at just under 90%. However, they rate just 27th (actually behind Carolina!) on the Power Play. If the Canes can find a way to be a plus on special teams, it would be a big boost against a stingy defensive team like LA.