The San Jose Sharks face their first road game of the 2013-14 NHL season when the Vancouver Canucks host them Thursday, October 10. It will be the second time the two Pacific Division rivals face off, and once again it will happen without Brad Stuart.
The long-time Shark was out with an upper-body injury to start the season one week ago, but returned on Tuesday to face the New York Rangers. However, his high hit on Rick Nash in the first period eventually led the forward who has a concussion history to miss the last two periods for headaches.
Now it has also led to a three-game suspension of Stuart by the NHL for "unnecessarily extend(ing) the left side of his body upward...in a way that makes Nash's head the main point of contact, causing an injury." The Sharks sat Scott Hannan for the New York game, and he will likely play the next three.
There is no doubt San Jose is better with Stuart in the lineup. He is their third-best defenseman as long as Brent Burns is playing forward. But Hannan already played solidly in the first two games, so this should not seriously affect the team's personnel match-ups like the one outlined before the season opener with Vancouver, when the blue line was the same as it will be Thursday. In fact, Matt Pelech was recalled and John McCarthy reassigned to the AHL to give the team the exact same roster.
Much more important at this point is how the teams are playing. Since losing to the Sharks 4-1 a week ago, the Canucks have won their other three games by a combined score of 14-8. However, two of those games were against teams projected to be among the NHL's worst, and the other against a team expected to contend for the Stanley Cup playoffs but currently down two forwards.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have been absolutely dominant since that contest. They have scored the same number of regulation goals (12) in just two games, and given up just as many all season as their minimum scored in every contest (four). They may be on the road, but they are more rested with the Canucks playing one more full game, fighting longer in each and even going into overtime twice.
Still, San Jose would drop behind Vancouver in the Pacific Division standings with a loss. Three keys to preventing that make up the photo list.