Programming note: Sharks-Oilers coverage gets underway tonight at 6 PT on Comcast SportsNet California
EDMONTON – It’s almost hard to believe that the Sharks, who have struggled so much to score goals since the start of February, actually put six in the net in a single period the last time they were in Edmonton in what was the second game of the season on Jan. 22.
They went on to a 6-3 win, which was a part of their season-opening seven-game streak. A 3-2 shootout win against the Oilers in San Jose on Jan. 31 was the seventh and final victory before things took a dramatic turn for the worse.
The Sharks are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot, and are just two points ahead of the 12th place Oilers, as they conclude the season series tonight at Rexall Place.
“We need a win, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against,” Dan Boyle said. “The West is so tight, you put a couple wins together you’re on top and you put a couple losses together you’re out of it.”
[RELATED: Boyle bothered by trade rumors]
Todd McLellan said: “When you look at the standings and what’s left and where we are situated – I’m speaking about both teams – it’s got to be a competitive game. Last time we were in we had a pretty good night, so I’m sure they’ll want to avenge that. The start tonight is going to be really important for our team.”
The Edmonton Oilers are 3-0-1 since captain Shawn Horcoff returned from a 15-game absence with a broken knuckle. Horcoff did play in the two previous games of the season series against the Sharks, though.
He, too, remembers surrendering a touchdown to San Jose in the first period here.
“That’s so long ago,” Horcoff said. “They got us early in the season here. Things were new.
“We actually went there (on Jan. 31) and had a really good effort. At this point, it’s going to be a totally different game, again. They are similar to where we were a couple weeks ago, where they’re really trying to turn things around and make their own push. We’re a team that’s made that push and we’re trying to sustain that.”
Havlat, Demers remain in; Clowe out
The Sharks made a couple notable changes to their lineup before a 5-3 loss in Anaheim on Monday. Marty Havlat returned after a seven-game absence with a lower body injury, while Jason Demers returned on defense. Demers sat out five straight before Monday.
Havlat was frequently a non-factor before his injury, with just three goals and three assists in 20 games. He assisted on Patrick Marleau’s late second period goal on Monday.
“We were happy to have both of them in, after our effort in L.A., as many changes as possible were necessary,” McLellan said. “I thought Marty had an impact on the game. He had the puck a lot, he shot it, he skated better than he had in the past. So, obviously injury-wise, he’s overcome it. He needs to bring that every day.
“Jason hadn’t played a lot heading into that night, and he did an admirable job. He’ll get another opportunity to play tonight, and try to string two or three together.”
Michal Handzus could be a healthy scratch for the first time this season, based on the look of the morning skate. Handzus took a hit by Matt Beleskey in the game against the Ducks and looked like he might have been shaken up on the play, but McLellan said he was fine.
Ryane Clowe (shoulder) will miss his second straight game. Antti Niemi will face Devan Dubnyk in net.
Vlasic reaches 500
He won’t get a silver stick from the league or a mastodon tusk from his teammates, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic will play in his 500th game in the NHL – and in a Sharks uniform – tonight at Rexall Place. He’ll be the fourth Sharks defenseman to reach that number, and the youngest to do so, just 10 days shy of his 26th birthday.
“It’s gone by too fast. Hopefully there’s 500 more. It’s gone by really fast,” he said.
“To be with the Sharks that many years and that many games is something I like. I love this organization and I love being with the Sharks, so being able to stay with this team for seven years has helped my development.”
Vlasic, who was drafted by the Sharks in the second round of the 2005 draft and signed a five-year contract extension that kicks in next season, is just the second player from that draft to reach 500 games. Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar is the only player who reached it quicker than Vlasic.
Mike Rathje, Marcus Ragnarsson and Scott Hannan are the only other defensemen to reach 500 games played with the Sharks.
As we mentioned in this morning’s game at a glance, Matt Irwin is the first Sharks defenseman since Rob Blake to score in three straight games. Irwin’s five goals and three assists for eight points places him second on the team among defensemen behind only Dan Boyle (12 points).
Irwin has become a mainstay on the blue line while others have shuffled in and out of the lineup.
“I think I’ve found a spot here, but that doesn’t mean anything. We’re not getting the wins,” Irwin said after Monday’s loss in Anaheim. “It’s nice to contribute, but It’s way better to contribute when you’re on the winning side.”
Besides Irwin and Blake, only four other Sharks defensemen have scored goals in three straight games: Doug Wilson (Jan. 11-14, 1992, four goals), Sandis Ozolinsh (Mar. 25-28, 1995) and Al Iafrate (Nov. 1-6, 1996, four goals).