Canucks hand struggling Sharks decisive loss
VANCOUVER — Andrei Kuzmenko isn't yet satisfied with his first year in the NHL.
The Russian winger scored his 35th goal of the season and notched an assist Thursday as his Vancouver Canucks toppled the struggling San Jose Sharks 7-2.
In the process, Kuzmenko set a new high for goals by a first-year Canucks player, surpassing the 34 put up by Pavel Bure in 1991-92.
“Yes, it’s good. But I need to be better," the 27-year-old said of the milestone. "I need to score a lot of goal. Maybe 40, 45 I need. Keep work.”
Six Vancouver players registered two-point nights Thursday, with J.T. Miller, Dakota Joshua, Conor Garland and Phillip Di Giuseppe each contributing a goal and a helper. Vasily Podkolzin and Sheldon Dries also found the back of the net for the Canucks (32-34-5) and Tyler Myers recorded a pair of assists.
“It was nice to see a couple of guys finish. Because they’ve had some chances in the past, but it's nice to finish," said Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet. "It gets your confidence (up), loosens you up a little bit.”
Tomas Hertl and Andrew Agozzino replied for the Sharks (19-38-15), who saw their winless skid stretch to eight games (0-5-3).
Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko stopped 17-of-19 shots and James Reimer made 14 saves for the visitors.
San Jose's lineup included six players who weren't with the team before the league's trade deadline on March 3.
Integrating new faces hasn't been easy, said Sharks coach David Quinn.
“When you make so many changes, some of the things that are happening out there are not really the fault of the new players," he said. "They just haven't been accustomed to playing the way you want to play and that can happen.
"But it's the guys that have been here that have to keep this thing together and understand that we've got a season to finish and we've got to do a better job finishing on a strong note.”
Both teams were busy in the third period, with four goals scored across the final 10 minutes of the game.
The Canucks took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission after Joshua tucked a buzzer beater around an outstretched Reimer with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
Conceding goals late in the period has become an issue for the Sharks, Hertl said.
"It's happening for us all year long," he said. "We give up so many last-second goals. I can't even count it, like first, second, third, just so many times it's like two seconds left and they score and it's not a good feeling when you give up again. We just shoot ourselves in the foot."
San Jose got on the board 9:34 into the game when Hertl ripped a shot past Demko from the hash marks for his 20th goal of the season.
A minute and 17 seconds earlier, Vancouver jumped out to a 2-0 lead when Elias Pettersson dished a pass to Kuzmenko in front of the net. The Russian deftly moved the puck from his forehand to his backhand, then shovelled a shot in past Reimer.
Pettersson earned an assist on the play, extending his point streak to a career-high 10 games with five goals and nine helpers across the stretch.
Vancouver opened the scoring 6:15 into the first after Miller picked off Hertl's pass at the Sharks' blue line. The Canucks centre skated in alone and snapped a shot past Reimer for his 29th goal of the campaign.
With nine goals and seven assists in his last 10 games, Miller said he's feeling confident in his shot.
"Sometimes you feel like you're shooting into a five gallon bucket and sometimes you just feel like you're just kind of hitting your mark," he said. "And when you're shooting like that with confidence, it makes me want to shoot more.
"It's nice to see them go because there are stretches in the season where it seems like you can do everything but score. So you kind of take them as they come.”
The Canucks won their ninth straight game against the Sharks, including all four matchups between the two sides this season.
Defenceman Filip Hronek played his first game in a Canucks jersey. Vancouver acquired the 25-year-old from the Detroit Red Wings on March 1 for first and second-round picks in this year's draft, but an upper-body injury kept Hronek out of the lineup until Thursday.
ANOTHER D-MAN DOWN
Vancouver's Christian Wolanin left the game with a lower-body injury midway through the first period and did not return. The 28-year-old blue liner signed a two-year, two-way extension with the Canucks earlier on Thursday.
Vancouver is already missing several defencemen, including veteran Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who's expected to be out for the rest of the season with a high-ankle sprain. Fellow blue liners Guillaume Brisebois and Noah Juulsen also missed Thursday's game with injuries.
The team may need to call some additional bodies up from the American Hockey League's Abbotsford Canucks, Tocchet said.
“We're kind of starting to get some guys hurt here," the coach said. "So we might have to look at the depth — even more — at the depth down there."
Canucks: Kick off a three-game road swing against the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
Sharks: Battle the Flames in Calgary on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.