Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

March 12, 2012, 7:18 pm
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EDMONTON After a pair of key divisional losses, the Sharks will get yet another chance to try and reverse what is becoming a dramatic downfall tonight in Edmonton.

San Jose has won just four of its last 18 games (4-11-3) and sits in 11th place in the Western Conference. The Sharks lost in Dallas on Thursday, 4-3 in a shootout, and in Phoenix on Saturday, 3-0, in the first two games of a four-game trip that concludes tomorrow night in Calgary.

With a win and a Colorado loss in Anaheim, the Sharks would move back into eighth place in the West.

Its a fight. Today we sit in the 11th spot and we have to win some games, Joe Thornton said. The good thing is fate is in our hands, so as long as we win well be fine. Well be in the party. Weve been playing better as of late. Were just not scoring, but the urgency is there right now.

The Sharks have fired 178 shots on net during their five game losing streak (0-3-2), but have scored just seven times. They believe the chances are there, and that the goals will soon follow.

Patrick Marleau said: If we were only putting up 20 shots a night and not getting many goals it would be a little bit concerning, but were getting the chances and getting the shots so weve got to stick with it.

Weve still got to get some more guys in front of the net. We keep putting 40, 45 shots on net well be fine, Thornton said. A lot of guys are squeezing their sticks, theyve just got to relax and let ability take over.

Playing loose: The Edmonton Oilers are out of the playoff race, and, consequently, are playing a looser brand of hockey and taking more chances as they try to play the role of spoiler down the stretch. Theyve won just once in their last six games (1-4-1, with the lone victory a 3-2 shootout win over the Sharks last Tuesday), but still have some of the more talented young players in the game like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Theyve got a lot of young players that like to make a lot of plays. They obviously dont have a lot of pressure on them so theyre playing loose, Ryane Clowe said.

Todd McLellan thinks that the frustrated Sharks could take notice of the Oilers attitude.

We know theyre fast, we know theyre skilled, and we know theyre playing very loose right now and can just come out and really have fun and enjoy the game, said the head coach. Thats something that Id like our guys to do, but with the situation were in, they seem to squeeze the sticks a little bit too much.

Clowe agreed.

As much as you can relax, I think thats a good thing, he said.

New look lines: In an effort to generate more offense, McLellan mixed up his lines for the full-team morning skate at Rexall Place on Monday morning.

Thornton skated between Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski; Marleau was in the middle of Clowe and Daniel Winnik; Dominic Moore centered Torrey Mitchell and Tommy Wingels, while the fourth line looks to be Andrew Desjardins, TJ Galiardi and Benn Ferriero.

Trying to find some goals. Trying to continue with good defensive play. Were looking for maybe some of the unusual suspects to maybe come up with one or two, McLellan said.

Moving Marleau from the top line to the second line center, and putting Couture on Thorntons line are the most noticeable changes.

Marleau has got some size and he can have some speed through the middle. Maybe he can help a guy like Ryane Clowe out, McLellan said. Coutch, on the other hand, has dried up a little bit so well try and mix him up with some different players and see if we can get him going, as well.

Marleau has just one goal in the last six games (his only point), while Couture has one assist in four games since returning from a lower body injury.

For those keeping track, that would leave Michal Handzus and Brad Winchester as the odd men out against Edmonton.

Playoffs starting now: With just 15 games in the regular season and the Sharks sinking in the standings every day, the team is trying to embrace a playoffs start now philosophy. That includes the proverbial one-game-at-a-time mantra.

Thats where you get in trouble, when you start counting down the games and say you have this many games to turn it around, Wingels said. I think our whole team looks at one game at a time. You cant look past tonights game. Obviously, if you dont win the games in hand, it just puts you in a bigger hole.

McLellan likened the pressure the Sharks are feeling now to getting down in a playoff series.

Weve been in this situation before, it just so happens that its usually in the first round, where were fighting for our lives and where the stress is a little bit higher than it normally is. Its a month earlier, he said. Weve been through this before for many years straight, it just happens that it comes in April.

Were dealing with it well. Guys are working hard and trying to play a team game. A lot of times when its not going well, you find guys turning to individuals trying to do too much. For the most part were playing in a team game and we believe in each other, so we have an opportunity to get where we want to go.

In the net: Antti Niemi will make his seventh straight start in net for the Sharks. Hes won just one of those six, but has a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over that span.

Niemi is 2-0-1 in his career against Edmonton, with a 1.44 GAA and .936 save percentage.

Devan Dubnyk, who made 28 saves through overtime and then stopped all three Sharks attempts in the shootout on March 6, starts for the Oilers.

Odds and ends: This is the fourth and final game between the teams this season. The last time the Sharks were out of playoffs position this late in the year was in 2006. They finished the season 14-4-2 and ended up as the fifth seed in the West. Marty Havlat remains out for the Sharks.