Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for


Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

Editor's Note: It's Saturday Night on Ice! Download your Shark-O cards and play along with the Oilers vs. Sharks!

SAN JOSE The Sharks will complete a busy stretch of seven games in 11 days on Saturday night when they host the Edmonton Oilers at HP Pavilion.

A dormant offense finally erupted in Thursdays 5-4 come-from-behind win against Colorado with three goals in the third period. Now, it will be up to the Sharks to carry the momentum gained from that final 20 minutes into tonights matchup with struggling Edmonton.

Its something to build off for us, said Torrey Mitchell. We didnt get the start we wanted to, but it was obviously positive coming out in the third like that.

"I think we need to carry over that type of play; that dire need to finish and win games, said Andrew Desjardins.

Coach Todd McLellan is also hopeful that the team is starting to regain its confidence, one player at a time.

For me, confidence is feeling good about yourself first, about the team and the game that youre playing. We dont have enough players that can honestly say that right now, said McLellan. Were gaining more back. I would say that were coming out of it. As we build on that a little bit more we should feel better about ourselves, and our game should improve.

The Sharks, who had an optional morning skate on Saturday, will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 20-23, as they are 3-5-2 in their last 10.

First look at Oilers: Edmonton is just 2-6-1 in its last nine games, including four regulation losses in its last five games. Still, the Oilers have some of the games top young talents in players like rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.

Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, leads Edmonton with 33 points (13g, 20a), tying him for 14th in the NHL in scoring.

The Sharks have had a bit of trouble with teams that feature speedy, shifty forwards like the Oilers possess. Colorados Matt Duchesne was the Avalanches best player in the two games this week, for example.

Smaller players, you need to close on them quick and not give them space to spin and turn guys like Duchesne and Brian Gionta on Montreal, said Mitchell. They are really dangerous. Bigger bodies tend to slow the play down a little bit and those guys are fast and dynamic.

Keeping the puck out of the net has been a problem for Edmonton, though, after it was a strength early on. The Oilers have allowed 61 goals in their last 17 games, after allowing just 23 through their first 14.

The Sharks visit Rexall Place on Jan. 23.

Win the special teams battle: Its become a theme over the last two weeks, but the Sharks' failure to win the special teams battle has been costing them points in the standings.

In the last seven games, San Jose has just two power play goals (2-for-21). Over that same stretch, the Sharks have killed off just 13 of 21 opponent man advantages.

McLellan notes that the Sharks last four losses have come by a margin of just one goal, making their special teams woes all the more glaring.

Your power play or penalty kill in that situation can make a huge, huge difference, and it didnt in those games, he said. Thats the difference between winning and losing. The penalty kill is a huge, huge factor in our games right now.

The Sharks havent won outright the special teams battle since Nov. 23, when they scored one power play goal against Chicago and killed off all four Blackhawks power plays in a 1-0 win.

Niemi again: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (12-6-3, 2.41 GAA, .916 SP) will make his 11th start in the last 12 games when he plays against the Oilers tonight.

McLellan isnt worried about his goaltenders heavy workload.

Our schedule has been fairly friendly when you look at it compared to some other teams, other than this stretch of seven in 11. He didnt have training camp and an early start to the season, said the coach, referring to Niemi's September surgery to remove a cyst on his leg.

At this point in the season, Im not worried about his workload one bit. In fact, I think much like last year, hes getting better as we play him more.

Nikolai Khabibulin (10-6-3, 1.95 GAA, .933 SP) is expected to be in net for the Oilers after missing the last two games.

In 34 career appearances against the Sharks, the 39-year-old is 17-11-2-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average.
Lines the same: The Sharks will keep their lines the same as they were in Thursdays win over Colorado. That is, Joe Thornton will play with Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski; Logan Couture will skate with Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau; while Michal Handzus will center Marty Havlat and Jamie McGinn. The fourth line remains the same, as well.

Mitchell spoke about his new linemates on Saturday morning.

Obviously those two guys Im with are a little more dynamic offensively. Its more of an opportunity to get points, but no different from my mindset, he said.

Eleven Sharks tallied at least one point on Thursday.

Odds and ends: The Sharks lead the NHL in shots per game (34.1) while the Oilers are 29th in the league (26.2). Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. Edmontons Taylor Hall returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three weeks on Thursday in Phoenix, a 4-2 loss for the Oilers.

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not


Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

SAN JOSE – Brent Burns has resumed his place among the NHL’s highest scoring defensemen. His nine points (3g, 6a) puts him first among all blueliners, and ties him for second overall in the league scoring race with six others.

For the rest of the Sharks’ defense corps, though, the points haven’t been there just yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime score on Tuesday was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman that employs the use of a razor on a regular basis, while he and the four others on the back end have combined for just three assists in seven games.

While that lack of production is reflected in the team’s goals-per game average – 2.26, 26th in the NHL – coach Pete DeBoer isn’t all that concerned. He attributes it more to being unlucky than anything else.

“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the other team five-on-five. The puck has bounced, or we just haven’t finished,” DeBoer said. “We’re getting some chances. Most nights we’re out-chancing the other team, and usually that’s a formula for success for us.”

The Sharks have been a strong team in terms of possession, as the coach indicated. They are averaging 32.4 shots per game, fourth in the NHL, and are second in the NHL in shot attempt percentage in close games (56.3 percent).

Still, they could have more. Vlasic, Justin Braun, David Schlemko, Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon have a combined 51 shots on goal, but they’ve also had 48 attempts that have been blocked. In fact, Braun and Martin both have had more attempts blocked than have that made it through to the goalie.

“Five-on-five we haven’t really been getting the tips or the dirty goals around the net that come off shots, but that starts with us getting it through,” said Braun, who has seven shots, but 12 that have been blocked. “The more shots we can get towards the net the better chance we’ll have for the forwards to bang some home, and go from there.”

David Schlemko is also scoreless through seven games, but he managed six shots against the Ducks on Tuesday and has 17 for the year (with 13 blocked). Other than Burns, he’s been the Sharks’ most effective defenseman at getting the puck through.

Brenden Dillon (nine shots, eight blocked) and Paul Martin (five shots, 10 blocked) have one assist each.

Martin indicated that it gets harder and harder every year to get shots through, as more teams commit to getting in lanes. The Sharks also make it a point to put the puck on Burns’ stick as much as they can, considering how much of a weapon he is. Both are factors in those low point totals.

“A lot of times we key on making sure that [Burns] gets the puck. But teams do a better job each year at getting in lanes and blocking shots and fronting pucks and packing it in [around the net],” Martin said. “It’s harder to get pucks through to the net than it used to be.”

The primary role of the defense, of course, is to defend. Except for some notable lapses against the Rangers and Red Wings, the Sharks have been doing that fairly well, holding the opposition to just 24.9 shots per game, second in the NHL.

As long as they keep that up, and Burns continues to produce, the Sharks will be in a good position to win on a nightly basis.

“We’re defending well,” DeBoer said. “That’s our team defense, and that starts with us controlling the play, playing in the other team’s end [and] putting pressure on the other team. I think that’s something that we’ve prided ourselves on all the way back to the beginning of last year.”

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

SAN JOSE – Prior to the season’s start, Marc-Edouard Vlasic mentioned that the Sharks’ blue line group might not get the league-wide respect it deserves due to it only having “one offensive defenseman.” He was, of course, referring to Brent Burns.

Through the first six games, that was the truth. Burns entered Tuesday night’s action with nine points, tied for the league lead in scoring, while the other five Sharks defenseman had just three assists – combined.

For at least one night, though, it wasn’t Burns who was the offensive hero. That honor went to Vlasic, who seized a loose puck in the neutral zone in overtime against Anaheim, raced ahead towards goalie John Gibson on a partial breakaway, and finished off a beautiful goal in giving the Sharks a much-deserved 2-1 win at SAP Center.

“Put my head down, breakaway, cut across and I was able to put it in,” said Vlasic, who had the presence of mind to use his skate to keep a backchecking Corey Perry from knocking the puck away. 

Pete DeBoer said: "He's got some speed when he wants to use it, and he's a big game player. That's what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he's one of those guys.”

The goal served as poetic justice in that the Sharks were the much better team throughout three periods. San Jose held a 35-20 advantage on the shot clock but only managed one goal, a power play marker by Joe Pavelski in the first period. Chris Wagner answered that late in the second period, despite San Jose registering 15 of the 20 shots in the middle frame.

DeBoer rearranged all four of his forward lines after the Sharks were shut out in Detroit on Saturday, and the Sharks looked much more dangerous despite just the single lonely marker before overtime.

“There’s a lot of good little things that we did well,” Pavelski said. “We were on the attack, felt like we were on the inside. We just weren’t cashing in or getting that bounce.”

Logan Couture said: “We created some chances. We could have had a couple. Each line played pretty well.”

DeBoer, too, liked what he saw from his new combos.

“If we keep playing like that, it's going to come,” he said. “But, it was a nice response game after the Detroit game.”

Perhaps the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game through seven games has been their penalty kill. San Jose fought off all three Ducks advantages, including a brief five-on-three in the first period shortly after Pavelski had opened the scoring.

Micheal Haley took exception to a high hit by Clayton Stoner on Patrick Marleau, and dropped the gloves with the Anaheim defenseman. He was issued an instigation minor to go along with a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, and one minute and 24 seconds later, Tomas Hertl was busted for a faceoff violation.

Couture, Burns and Paul Martin worked to nullify the two-man advantage, and the Sharks proceeded to kill the remaining time on the Hertl penalty, too.

“It was an important time of the game with a one-goal lead,” said Martin Jones, who made seven saves on the PK and 19 total.

Penalties like Haley’s, where he was sticking up for a teammate, are also easier to get up for according to the goalie.

“I don't think he was expecting to get an instigator call on that one, but yeah, we'll kill that off, for sure,” Jones said. “Hales is a good team guy to go out and do stuff like that."

San Jose is 18-for-22 on the penalty kill overall, including a third period kill of a Joe Thornton holding-the-stick minor at 4:09.

“We’ve allowed [four] goals against, but they were unfortunate bounces or really nice shots from them that we could do nothing about,” Vlasic said. “Penalty kill has been good. Guys have been bearing down, blocking shots when we need to.”

The Sharks will remain at home where they will host the rebuilding Blue Jackets on Thursday and Predators on Saturday. After an odd training camp with many players missing and a tough five-games-in-eight-days road trip after the home opener, they’ll get a chance now to enjoy a much more normal day-to-day routine, with practice.

Tuesday’s win could serve as a solid foundation on which to build.

“That was definitely one of our better games this year,” Couture said. “It was good from basically start to finish.”

Especially the finish.