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Eakins seeing gradual improvement in Oilers

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers are putting a two-game win streak on the line Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers won two straight for the fourth time this season with a 4-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. They've only managed one three-game win streak this season.

"You can feel it starting to tilt the last couple of games leading up to getting out of that [losing] streak, where the chances-against weren't so high," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "I thought we exited our zone much better the last couple of games, our goaltending was excellent. Any time you can exit that zone cleanly it adds up to more offensive-zone time, which has been critical."

Prior to beating the Nashville Predators and the Canucks, the Oilers had been on a six-game winless skid.

With defenseman Andrew Ference and right wing Ales Hemsky out the Oilers iced a bigger lineup in their previous two games. Although both players skated Wednesday morning, Ference (head) and Hemsky (bruised foot) will not be back in the lineup against the Sharks.

"The message to our group [Wednesday] before the game will be that this isn't the same team we played a month ago," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "They're confident, they're feeling better about themselves, their goaltending has changed a little bit and they're not giving up as much.

"As the season goes on you tend to play a little more free in their situation and you can just go out and play. Maybe they're at that point right now but they do look like a more dangerous team than they did a month ago and that's a good sign for Edmonton and for the city."

Part of the Oilers' recent success has been the contribution of their fourth line, consisting of Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Smyth and Luke Gazdic.

The group has increased the physical element in the Oilers' game and is contributing on the score sheet as well. Joensuu scored the game-winner against the Canucks, set up by Smyth.

The Oilers' third and fourth lines will be counted on heavily again against a big, strong Sharks team.

"Those lines, I thought, ignited our team giving us a chance to win the games," Eakins said. "Being not worried about the matchups but being excited about the matchup because they've been going so well, that will be critical.

"For the other [top] two lines, they will need to bring it [Wednesday] as well. They're going to be challenged, especially down the middle with the players that San Jose has."

Ben Scrivens will get the start in goal for the Oilers while Antti Niemi will start for the Sharks.

Here are the expected lineups:


Matt Nieto - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Tommy Wingels - Patrick Marleau - Brent Burns

Bracken Kearns - Andrew Desjardins - Tyler Kennedy

Eriah Hayes - Mike Brown - Marty Havlat

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers

Brad Stuart - Justin Braun

Scott Hannan - Dan Boyle

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: John McCarthy, Matt Irwin, James Sheppard

Injured: Logan Couture (hand), Tomas Hertl (knee), Raffi Torres (knee), Adam Burish (back)


Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle

Nail Yakupov - Sam Gagner - David Perron

Matt Hendricks - Boyd Gordon - Ryan Jones

Jesse Joensuu - Ryan Smyth - Luke Gazdic

Nick Schultz - Justin Schultz

Martin Marincin - Jeff Petry

Anton Belov - Corey Potter

Ben Scrivens

Ilya Bryzgalov

Scratched: Mark Arcobello

Injured: Ales Hemsky (ankle), Andrew Ference (head), Philip Larsen (illness)

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