Posted December 27, 2011 on AP on Fox
ANDY LEFKOWITZ STATS Writer While the Vancouver Canucks are looking to increase their slim lead in the Northwest Division, the San Jose Sharks have their eyes on sole possession of first place in the Pacific. Two of the Western Conference's top teams square off for the second time this season as the Canucks meet the Sharks on Wednesday night to open a three-game road trip through California. With a 3-2 victory Nov. 26 at HP Pavilion, Vancouver improved to 8-1-1 in its last 10 games against the Sharks, including a five-game victory in last season's West finals. The Canucks (22-12-2) have scored 18 goals while winning four of five at San Jose after being outscored 23-8 during an 0-5-1 stretch there Dec. 13, 2007 to April 8, 2010. Since losing to West-leading Chicago on Nov. 16, the Canucks have gone 13-3-1 to take a one-point lead over struggling Minnesota in the Northwest. Vancouver took an early 3-0 lead Monday and topped Edmonton 5-3 as Andrew Ebbett recorded the first two-goal game of his career. They were Ebbett's first points in three games since missing 17 with a broken foot. "I'm looking at this as an opportunity to prove I deserve a top-12 spot the rest of the season," said Ebbett, who had two goals in 33 games with Phoenix last season. Roberto Luongo has a 1.68 goals-against average as a starter in December, stopping 18 of 21 shots against the Oilers to improve to 8-1-1 in those outings. But it's possible Cory Schneider could start for the Canucks after turning away 43 shots in last month's win in San Jose. Schneider, however, is 0-1-0 with a 3.64 GAA in three appearances this month. Henrik Sedin scored on the power play against the Sharks in November after piling up 12 points versus San Jose in the 2011 postseason. Sedin has a league-leading 16 assists among 17 December points. This will be the first of three games in a four-night stretch for the Canucks, who close 2011 with visits to Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Sharks head into their final contest of the calendar year hoping to avoid back-to-back losses. After winning the first four games of a six-game homestand, the Sharks fell 3-2 to the Ducks on Monday as Anaheim halted a 13-game winless streak on the road. "It's tough, but you've got to find a way (to win)," said Joe Pavelski, who scored his 15th goal to tie Logan Couture for the team lead. Pavelski has three goals - one fewer than Couture - on the homestand. Pavelski also has six career goals against the Canucks, but none in the playoffs or the past four regular-season meetings. Despite the loss, San Jose (19-11-3) is tied with Dallas atop the Pacific having played two fewer games. Following this contest, the Sharks won't take the ice again until Monday, when they open a two-game road trip at Vancouver. Special teams could be key in this game. Vancouver is just 2 for 15 with the man advantage over its last seven games, yet continues to lead the league in power-play goals (35) and percentage (25.0). The Canucks have allowed a power-play goal in three straight road games after surrendering three in 49 chances over their previous 12 games away from home. Meanwhile, San Jose is just 5 for 37 (13.5 percent) on the power play in 12 December games. Nine of the 31 goals the Sharks have yielded this month have come while short-handed, as did nine of the 20 they surrendered to Vancouver in the West finals.
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