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Sharks edge struggling Oilers 3-2

by Eric Gilmore /
SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks finally got some production from their struggling power play, and it proved to be the difference in their 3-2 win over Edmonton at HP Pavilion on Saturday night.

The Sharks broke a 2-2 tie on Patrick Marleau's power-play goal 6:11 into the third period. With Theo Peckham in the box for interference, Joe Pavelski took a short pass behind the net from Jamie McGinn and made a wraparound pass to Marleau, crashing in from the right circle. Marleau ripped a shot inside the right post before Nikolai Khabibulin could recover.

"It's one of those things, we talk about special teams and how they have to be good for you," Marleau said. "Our PK did some good work in the third, and the power play got one in the third as well."

Martin Havlat and Joe Thornton also scored for the Sharks, while Jordan Eberle and Ryan Jones had goals for the Oilers, who lost their third straight game.

San Jose's penalty kill ranked 29th and its power play, usually one of the NHL's best, was tied for 12th entering the game. Against Edmonton they went just 1-for-4 on the power play and gave up a shorthanded goal to Jones in the second, but they came through in the third period went it counted most. The Sharks also went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill, including a crucial kill in the third when they were protecting their one-goal lead.

The Sharks also had a huge kill in the third Thursday night in their 5-4 comeback win over Colorado.

"I think our penalty kill is slowly getting there," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Tinker around with it more, different pairings at different times. But two nights in a row it came up big in the third period. It allowed us to win the third period. As we continue to repair that, we have to continue to work on the power play. When it's all said and done, those two areas have to get better for us to be a successful team. I'm not disappointed at all with our 5-on-5 play. We make mistakes and we let momentum get away from us sometimes, but my biggest concern is those two areas."

Khabibulin started for the first time since Dec. 9 against Colorado when he gave up one goal on 29 shots in a 4-1 victory. Khabibulin, who turns 39 next month, got a week and two games off to rest and rejuvenate. He stopped 34 of 37 shots as his record fell to 10-7-3 record.

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped 23 of 25 shots.

"We knew they were going to come out hard," Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff said of the Sharks. "Our penalty kill did good in the second, but in the end it comes down to special teams. The effort was there. If we play like that we will win all the time. Khabby was great. He kept us in it."

After each team scored a goal in the first period, Edmonton took the lead at 5:28 of the second on Jones' shorthanded goal. Havlat couldn't handle a pass from defenseman Jason Demers and turned the puck over near the Sharks blue line. Jones took off on a breakaway, beating Niemi with a shot inside the left post.

Thornton made it 2-2, scoring a 4-on-4 goal at 14:33 that ended his 13-game goal drought. Pavelski zipped a beautiful cross-ice pass to Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the right side. As Thornton sliced toward the crease, Vlasic hit him with a pass, and he slipped the puck under Khabibulin from just outside the crease.

"We haven't been in a lot of 4-on-4 situations, but for us to be successful in overtime we have to score in those situations," McLellan said. "It was nice to see us connect on that. Jumbo, probably admittedly so, didn't have his ‘A' game tonight. There were a lot of turnovers coming off his stick, but he found a way to get us a big goal, and it was important."

Shortly after Marleau put the Sharks ahead 3-2, Demers landed in the penalty box for holding, and Edmonton went on the power play. As they did Thursday night, the Sharks came up with the big kill.

"It's a stepping stone I guess," center Michal Handzus said. "Obviously special teams are huge. We've been talking that when we win the special teams battle we usually win the game. It's still not great, but we've got to start somewhere, and those third periods, it shows the desperation, it shows we are committing to kill it. We've got to do it the whole game."

Havlat gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 8:36 of the first period with his second goal of the season and first at even strength. Dan Boyle controlled the puck in the neutral zone and hit a streaking Havlat with a pass along the right boards as Handzus sprinted down the middle with no Oiler between them and Khabibulin. Havlat zipped a pass to Handzus, got the puck back and sent it into a wide-open net.

The Oilers answered at 17:16 on Eberle's 12th goal of the season. After a Sharks turnover in their own end, Taylor Hall got the puck to Eberle along the left boards. His shot zipped past defenseman Colin White and beat Niemi.

"I liked their work ethic," Oilers coach Tom Renney said of his players. "I thought we attacked better. Our penalty kill was good, our player play was good – we had some opportunities there. We played hard. This is the important thing."

Thornton had four of his team's eight giveaways in the first period. Neither team took a penalty in the period.

Looking for a spark after back-to-back losses, Renney juggled his lines. He reunited  Hall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, with rookie center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the top overall pick this year, and Eberle, a first-round choice in 2008. That first line matched youth -- Nugent-Hopkins is just 18, while Hall is 20 and Eberle 21 – and speed against the older and bigger Sharks.

"They've got a lot of pressure in everybody's zone the way they're playing," McLellan said of Edmonton's top line. "If you're a fan of hockey, they're a great threesome to watch. They're young, they're excited to play and they're very gifted. They're going to do Edmonton proud for many years. They're very skilled. They complement each other. You look at the goal that Eberle scored. It was just a flat-out skill goal. They're a very good threesome, and they've got to be fun to watch."

Havlat had an up-and-down game that included his second goal of the season, a giveaway that led to Edmonton's shorthanded goal and an injury while climbing over the boards trying to get on the ice in the third period.

"He got hooked up on the boards," McLellan said. "Other than that I can't give you an update right now. I'll have to do that in the morning."

White was accidently kneed in the head earlier in the game, but McLellan said he believes "he's fine."

The Sharks ended a three-game skid Thursday night, roaring back from a 4-2 third-period deficit to score three goals and beat Colorado at the Shark Tank.  McLellan shuffled his lines in that game, hoping to jumpstart his offense, and he opened with the same lineup against Edmonton.

Torrey Mitchell skated again with Thornton and Pavelski on the top line, while Marleau was on the second line with center Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe.  Havlat moved to the third line, where he and McGinn flanked Handzus.

"I think we're getting there," Handzus said. "It's all about the chemistry. We're talking a lot on the bench, and we know pretty much what everybody's doing."

McGinn also made a rare appearance on the power play and had an assist on Marleau's game-winner.

"We're looking for combinations," McLellan said. "I'm looking for guys that want to outwork the penalty kill, and I think Jamie's prepared to do that. You look at the scoresheet, I think everybody but three players got power play time tonight. Power play's a privilege in my opinion. It starts with talented players, and they should be on the ice. They're the best players. They're rewarded to do that, but it is a privilege, and you have to maintain your status there. Unless we clean it up, we're going to see a lot more of those other guys on the ice as well."
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