Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

January 23, 2012, 8:19 pm
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PROGRAMMING ALERT: Sharks Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, with the puck drop at 6:30 p.m., followed by Sharks Postgame Live.

EDMONTON The Sharks have two games remaining before the NHL All-Star break, tonight in Edmonton and Tuesday in Calgary. After losses in three of their last four games, though, their hold on first place in the Pacific Division is down to a single point over the surging Los Angeles Kings, who host Ottawa tonight.

Is it important to still have the top spot in the division when the league takes the week off after Tuesdays action?

Whats important right now is that we dont open up the newspaper and look at where we stand, Todd McLellan said after the morning skate on Monday at Rexall Place. We open up our playbook, and we look at how were playing. Thats the most important thing when it comes down to it.

The Sharks do have four games in hand on the Kings, as the division devolves, so to speak, into a two-team race.

Even so, finishing strong before the break against two clubs out of playoff position, and putting behind a brief stretch of losing hockey, is vital.

It would be nice to win tonight and get some confidence going into Calgary before the break, Joe Thornton said.

Well carry this effort with us over the All-Star break, and when we get back together well still have that same taste in our mouth, McLellan said. Wed prefer it to be on the positive side, theres no doubt about it, but there are two Alberta teams telling their teams the exact same thing. Were going to have to go earn it.

Greiss going: Thomas Greiss will get the call in net tonight, making his third start in the last 10 games. His previous two have been successful, as hes surrendered just one goal in each in a pair of wins over the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.

Thomas has been able to play and give us some real good games after long breaks, McLellan said. Im not overly concerned with his ability to come in after extended periods. Tonight, we need a good goaltending performance, especially early in the game against a team that Im sure will have a growl and be very hungry. We are very comfortable that he can pitch that for us.

Conversely, regular starter Antti Niemi is enduring a rough patch. Hes surrendered four goals in three of his last four games, going 1-3 over that span. Furthermore, some of the shots that beat him were very stoppable.

Starting Greiss against Edmonton isnt a reflection of Niemis questionable play of late, according to the coach, whose Sharks play again tomorrow night in Calgary.

Its a reflection on Thomas ability to come in and play. His last two games that hes played hes given up one goal against. He has the capability of playing, and you guys drilled me with these questions in December when we werent playing any games, and I said when we get into this busy time we were going to access the goaltenders that we have. Its Thomas opportunity to play.

Greiss faced the Oilers once in his career, more than two years ago a 4-2 win in which he made 27 saves on Jan. 16, 2010. Hes been better on the road this year, too, with a 3-1 record, 1.25 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in four games. At home hes 3-3 with a 2.65 GAA and .900 SP.

Devan Dubnyk will start for Edmonton. Hes 2-2 with a 2.77 GAA and .917 SP in four career games vs. San Jose.
Desjardins continues to impress: Andrew Desjardins recorded his first multiple-point game since opening night in the 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Saturday, with a pair of assists. He took Tommy Wingels spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski now that Wingels is out with a left shoulder injury.

Playing with those guys is an honor and a lot of fun, Desjardins said Monday morning. I try not to stray from what I do and what Im here to do and just try to contribute.

I feel comfortable with the puck, and just growing and getting more confident and getting used to the league more. You start to understand the game better and better. I feel pretty good out there, so I just hope it keeps going.

Desjardins is also playing more, taking regular shifts on the penalty kill again. He saw more than 13 minutes of ice time on Saturday for just the third time this season.

When asked if he liked Desjardins game on Saturday, McLellan replied: Yep, or we wouldnt keep using him as much as we are. Very good penalty killer, hes grinding in the corners, and doing what hes supposed to do. He continues to earn a spot in the lineup.

Ornery Oilers: The Oilers have dropped eight of their last nine games as they continue to sink in the overall standings. Edmonton got blown out by Calgary on Saturday, 6-2, and endured a hard practice from coach Tom Renney on Sunday.

Even though theyve been struggling, theyre going to come out hungry tonight and try to beat us, so weve got to be focused, Thornton said.

The Oilers still possess a ton of speed up front, with players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and that will be the biggest challenge for the Sharks defensively.

They are a very quick team and very good transition team, McLellan said.

If you dont manage the puck properly and allow them to get away on you, with outnumbered rushes and give them time and space, they can make you pay.

Odds and ends: The Sharks are 7-1-1 in their last nine games at Edmonton. Their last regulation loss here was March 21, 2010, a 5-1 defeat. The Sharks are 19-9-3 when getting at least 36 shots on goal. They are 11-8-2 when getting 35 or fewer. San Jose has allowed 67 five-on-five goals, the third fewest in the league. San Jose has killed 38 of its last 43 opponent power plays in the last 16 games (88.4 percent). In the last 33 games, the Oilers goalies have allowed 3.44 goals per game. Edmonton is -17 in the third period. The Oilers own the leagues third best power play (21.0 percent).