SAN JOSE — The six degrees of separation theory means by way of introduction, everyone is six or fewer steps away from crossing paths with anyone in the world.
When Mason Raymond, Aaron Volpatti and Scott Gomez started down the same hockey path — choosing to the Junior A route — they didn’t imagine sharing the same sheet of NHL ice here Sunday.
But the trio has more than fate and a hockey lineage in common. They all have something to prove with expiring contracts.
Raymond and Volpatti made the right kind of statement Friday for the Vancouver Canucks during a 5-0 blanking of the Ducks in Anaheim. Gomez hopes to do the same after making a pointless San Jose debut Saturday in a 4-0 rout of the Colorado Avalanche that pushed the Sharks to an impressive 4-0-0 record.
Raymond scored twice in the vengeful win over the Ducks — his first two-goal game since April 7, 2011 against Minnesota — while Volpatti added an unassisted effort and punched his way further into the good books of Alain Vigneault.
The Canucks coach will keep his lineup intact Sunday against the undefeated Sharks in the second stop of a three-game trip, unless a sore groin sidelines Maxim Lapierre to give Manny Malhotra the lineup call.
The Friday accolades rightfully belonged to Cory Schneider. He cemented his starter status with a 30-save effort and his fifth career shutout by keeping the Canucks in it until they found their legs to improve to 2-1-1.
However, Raymond put on his own show to raise eyebrows and expectations.
He took a straight-line route to the net to pick his own power-play rebound — after outlegging Ryan Getzlaf and Sheldon Souray — and then ripped a power-play wrist shot past Jonas Hiller.
His team-high three goals after four games is only matched by Zack Kassian, and Raymond even absorbed a wicked cross-check from Getzlaf in a crease scrum. He has a red welt on his neck to prove he can get to the crease and stay there.
“That worked out in our good favour because we got the 5-on-3 and got the first goal,” Raymond said Saturday after practice.
“Stats are what show on a scoresheet, but you can have a fabulous game and way more chances and not have any goals to show for it. I poked that first one up and it hit the post first and I whacked it out of the air. It’s about finding those holes and getting to the areas where the puck is going to come to you and that’s the front of the net. And the second one, I was shooting blocker all the way.
“It feels good when you’re contributing, and these are the days you live for. “
Maybe the key is that Raymond doesn’t worry. Even after the Canucks filed for cut-down arbitration in June and the winger took a $325,000 US pay cut. Maybe it’s being a father to nine-month-old son Max.
After all, Raymond was a fourth line afterthought when last season ended abruptly. He was far removed from a career 25 goals and 53 points in the 2009-10 season that his playing future appeared in doubt. A compression vertebrae fracture suffered in Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final put the 27-year-old Cochrane, Alta., native in a back brace for two months.
When he returned the following December, the joy of playing wasn’t matched by production. Raymond had 10 goals and 20 points in 55 games and one assist in five playoff games. Now he has his health and a healthy outlook.
While the Canucks scored three power-play goals Friday and got their other goals from Daniel Sedin and Kassian, it’s what they got from Volpatti that was inspirational. Just 1:51 into a game with the Ducks storming the net, he traded blows with Matt Beleskey and cut the enforcer.
“We were kind of getting into it the first game (Jan. 19) and I thought it was a good time with a little bit of a slow start,” said Volpatti. “We looked at each other before the faceoff and that was a good time to have a scrap.”
And then came the shot from the slot that squeezed through Hiller to provide a three-goal cushion.
“I got the puck and put my head up pretty quick and there was traffic,” said Volpatti. “I got the goalie moving laterally and just tried to get in on net as quick as I could.”
Volpatti was limited to 23 games last season after December shoulder surgery to repair a torn left labrum and his toughest work has come off the ice.
“I think I’ve played my role and I’ve dealt with injuries that have held me back and this was a long process,” he said. “But I feel good now and it means a lot to keep going. The times I’ve played in San Jose, the first 10 minutes are a real eye-opener. They’re big and strong and compete hard.”
He’s right. Patrick Marleau had two goals Saturday, has four consecutive multiple-goal games and a league-leading eight goals. And the Sharks have outscored their opposition 19-7.