NHL Gameday: Critical Sharks road trip begins in Edmonton

NHL Gameday: Critical Sharks road trip begins in Edmonton

Programming note – Sharks-Oilers coverage starts today at 5:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 43-26-7, 93 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Oilers: 42-25-9, 93 points, 3rd Pacific Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks’ final road trip of the season begins with an important back-to-back in Edmonton and Calgary, as they fight to at least keep home ice advantage in the first round. They are tied in points with the Oilers, and have a three-point advantage, with a game in hand, on Calgary.

San Jose snapped a six-game regulation losing streak on Tuesday against the Rangers, 5-4 in overtime.

“I think we had a good game as a team,” Mikkel Boedker said. “I think we played really well, and we were extremely focused on our details of the game and what we had to do to be successful. That’s going to be the same tonight.”

***There’s a chance that the Sharks and Oilers, who meet once more next week, could be first round playoff opponents. DeBoer weighed in on that possibility, and how it affects tonight's game.

“Where we’re sitting in the standings, the potential of playing each other in the playoffs – all that stuff. It’s a critical game,” Pete DeBoer said. “The outcome isn’t going to end the season for either of us, and both of us will pick up and move on whether it’s a win or a loss and get ready for the next one, but there’s definitely a lot at stake and there’s definitely messaging that can be sent this time of the year.”

Edmonton has won three in a row, and seven of its last eight.

***Speaking of messaging, and DeBoer wouldn’t confirm it, but it appears that Micheal Haley will return to the lineup in place of Kevin Labanc. Haley served a one-game suspension on Tuesday for punching Calle Jarnkrok last Saturday.

Labanc played much of Tuesday’s game on the top line left wing. There were no line rushes on Thursday morning, though, so just who will take that place with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski will remain a mystery until warmups.

***The Sharks have won two of three from Edmonton in the season series, including one in overtime, but the Oilers claimed a 4-1 win in the most recent meeting in San Jose on Jan. 26. They meet for the fifth and final time on April 6. 

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Mikkel Boedker. The free agent addition played his best game in weeks on Tuesday against the Rangers, snapping a 10-game scoreless drought. He recorded a pair of primary assists in San Jose’s win by generating some shots towards the net, which were cleaned up by Jannik Hansen and Chris Tierney. The last time Boedker was in Edmonton on Jan. 10, he registered a hat trick in a 5-3 Sharks victory.

Oilers: Cam Talbot. No goalie has played more this season than Talbot (38-21-8, 2.37 GAA, .920 SP), who has appeared in 68 games and recorded 3992 minutes – more than 400 minutes more than Devan Dubnyk. After a rare game off against Colorado on March 25, he returned to the net to make 34 saves in a 2-1 Oilers win against Los Angeles on Tuesday.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Timo Meier – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Patrick Marleau – Joel Ward
Jannik Hansen – Tomas Hertl – Mikkel Boedker
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell 

Oilers
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
Benoit Pouliot – David Desharnais – Zack Kassian
Drake Caggiula – Mark Letestu – Anton Slepyshev

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Andrej Sekera – Kris Russell
Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning

Cam Talbot (starter)
Laurent Brossoit

INJURIES

Sharks: Logan Couture (face) is out.

Oilers: None.

QUOTEABLE

“It’s big to play those teams that you’re battling with. … It’s going to be tough. But, it’s good to start ramping it up. It’s only going to get harder.” – Brent Burns

Sharks Notes: Couture out for at least three more games

Sharks Notes: Couture out for at least three more games

EDMONTON – Logan Couture is not with the Sharks in Edmonton on Thursday and will not be available to play in any of the next three games on San Jose’s road trip, coach Pete DeBoer said on Thursday morning at Rogers Place.

Couture is still recovering from significant dental work on Monday after a deflected puck knocked out several teeth in a game in Nashville last Saturday. The Sharks have put no timeframe on his return, and after visits to Calgary on Friday and Vancouver on Sunday, have just three games left in the regular season.

Couture’s former coach, Todd McLellan, was asked on Thursday morning how Couture’s absence affects the Sharks ahead of the important Sharks-Oilers game later on Thursday night.

“I can certainly appreciate his skill and ability,” McLellan said. “You guys in San Jose watch him every game. His intensity and his drive – he drives that team as much as anybody does. So, I’m sure it doesn’t help not having him in the lineup. But, we’ll continue to prepare, because they have a number of others that can make you pay.”

The Sharks ended a six-game losing streak on Tuesday against the Rangers, 5-4, with Couture out.

“It’s kind of ironic, as Logan left the team they got back off the losing streak, because others picked up the slack,” McLellan said. “Good teams do that, and San Jose is a good team.”

* * *

One player in particular that upped his game against the Rangers was Chris Tierney, who scored two goals, including the game-tying marker with 2:15 to go in regulation. 

More games like that from the 22-year-old would surely be welcomed by coach Pete DeBoer, as Tierney has struggled throughout his third NHL season to generate consistent offense. In 74 games, he has nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points.

“I thought he was assertive, he was skating well. He’s a young player learning that consistency,” DeBoer said. “When he gets it, when he has a little bit of that assertiveness in his game, a little bit of desperation in his game, he’s very effective. When he settles in and gets a little comfortable, he’s not. 

“We’ve had to sit him a couple times over the last couple years and give him a little bit of a shock, and he’s responded every time. But, every time I want to see the consistency last a little longer and longer, and hopefully you don’t have to do that anymore.”

* * *

Jannik Hansen registered the primary assist on Tierney’s goal, after opening the scoring against the Rangers Tuesday night. It was his first goal with the Sharks after he was acquired from Vancouver just before the trade deadline.

“It [was] a little longer wait than I anticipated,” Hansen said. “We joked after the first game I could have had one in an empty net, didn’t get it. You always like to get those ones out of the way so it doesn’t hang over you. I would have loved to have produced more, especially when we were losing.”

It’s unclear where Hansen will line up against the Oilers. He could return to the top line, where he played when he was first inserted into the Sharks’ lineup, or he may remain with countryman Mikkel Boedker on the third line, with either Tierney or Tomas Hertl as the center.

“I think he fits everywhere and anywhere,” DeBoer said. “I think that’s the beauty of him. He’s such a versatile guy."

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Throughout much of his dominant 2016-17 season, the words “Norris Trophy lock” have often preceded Brent Burns’ name. 

The 32-year-old has led all NHL blueliners in scoring for the past three months, building upon a strong second half last season in which he helped lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final, and solidifying himself as one of the best defensemen in the game.

In 76 games, Burns has 28 goals – 11 more than any other defenseman – and 45 assists for 73 points and a plus-17 rating. At one point on Feb. 19, he had 14 more points than Erik Karlsson, who was second among NHL defensemen.

But Burns went cold earlier this month. During one stretch, he went nine out of 10 games without finding the scoresheet, and finally snapped a 16-game goal drought with an overtime winner on Tuesday against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Karlsson has been heating up. A two-time Norris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2015, the Senators defenseman has 13 points in his last 14 games. As of Wednesday morning, Karlsson was just five points behind Burns in scoring, with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points and a plus-seven rating.

There’s talk Karlsson could take home a third Norris, snatching it out of Burns’ grasp.

But, probably not.

In an anonymous poll among 21 PHWA members, most of whom get a vote for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, Burns’ designation as the frontrunner seems fairly safe with just six games to go in the regular season.

Of the writers polled, including a broad swath from across North America, 14 told CSN they would likely vote for Burns as the league’s best defensemen if the season ended Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Three were leaning towards Burns, while only four said they would give it to Karlsson.

One writer polled had Burns first, Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman second, and Karlsson third.

Of course, 21 votes is just a small sample size of the PHWA membership. Last season, 183 writers took part in voting for the Norris, according to the final tally. Burns finished third in voting, well behind winner Drew Doughty, while Karlsson was second.

Still, as long as Burns stays in front of Karlsson in the scoring race, it appears he remains in line to become the first Sharks defenseman ever to earn a Norris Trophy.