OILERS (7-19-6) at SHARKS (17-11-4)
TV: SN360, CSN-CA
SAN JOSE - After a four-day break in their schedule, the well-rested San Jose Sharks will return to action against the reeling Edmonton Oilers and interim coach Todd Nelson at SAP Center on Thursday.
The Oilers have lost 16 of their past 17 games, including a 2-1 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Tuesday in Nelson's NHL coaching debut.
Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish fired coach Dallas Eakins on Monday and promoted Nelson from Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League.
Forward Tommy Wingels, however, said the Sharks know better than to take Edmonton lightly.
"There's desperation there, that's for sure," Wingels said. "You see the changes they've made on the coaching staff. I'm sure the players feel that as well. When your team's losing, everything's on the table, so there's absolutely desperation there. They've got the skill to play with teams. So we'll have to be ready again tonight."
The Oilers' most recent victory was against San Jose, a 2-1 win on Dec. 7 at Rexall Place.
"We know we have our work cut out for us," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "For our group, maybe in the past years we focused on what the other team was doing and how we're going to stop them. Much more this year on what we're doing. It has to be here for a while until we complete our transition and get our game to where we want it consistently."
As he did against Arizona, MacTavish will direct the Oilers from behind the bench, giving Nelson more time to adjust to the NHL before taking full control.
"We consult with each other obviously if we have matchups and different strategies," Nelson said. "Craig's running the forwards. I'm there watching for different system work, absorbing what's going on with individuals, but Craig's also looking at the players from a coach's point of view. I think it gives him a good idea of what kind of player is in front of him, working in the trenches."
Nelson said the Oilers need to increase their "tempo" on the ice, and forward Matt Hendricks acknowledged that Edmonton's energy has been too low, too often.
"I don't think the issue is in the room," Hendricks said. "The energy levels are low at times. That's where we need to have the improvement. But with winning hockey, it helps bring that in the room. ... Frustrations are high and energy tends to run low when things aren't going the right direction."
According to Hendricks, the Oilers have made a concerted effort to play with more energy and to spend more time together off the ice.
"We had good dinners the last little while, guys together, laughing, chirping each other," Oilers forward David Perron said. "We need more of that. We need to feel it's the exact same thing when we're off the ice and on the ice."
The Oilers will have fourth-line center Boyd Gordon and defenseman Oscar Klefbom back in the lineup against San Jose. Gordon missed five games with a back injury. Klefbom missed two games with a foot injury after blocking a shot against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
"The foot feels a lot better," Klefbom said. "It's not great maybe, but it's absolutely good to go tonight. I'm glad."
San Jose extended its winning streak to three games Saturday with a 2-0 victory against the Nashville Predators. They've won seven of their past eight games and six straight at home. The question is whether they can recapture their momentum after four days off.
"It would have been nice to keep the momentum going, but it stopped," McLellan said. "We should be a refreshed team. If anything, we should have some energy early in the game. Will our execution be good? We might have to wade into it a little bit, but as the night goes on we should get better."
The Sharks went 2-4-2 in their first six home games, but have reestablished their typical home-ice edge.
"If you want to make the playoffs and be an elite team, you have to take care of business at home," Wingels said. "So we feel good about what we've been doing recently, but we got to have that continue."
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said San Jose has more work to do on home ice.
"It has to be every game," Marleau said. "We have to make sure teams are afraid to come into this building and play us."
Here are the projected lineups:
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Teddy Purcell
David Perron - Mark Arcobello - Jordan Eberle
Nail Yakupov - Leon Draisaitl - Tyler Pitlick
Matt Hendricks - Boyd Gordon - Steven Pinizzotto
Andrew Ference - Jeff Petry
Oscar Klefbom - Mark Fayne
Brad Hunt - Justin Schultz
Scratched: Brandon Davidson, Keith Aulie, Luke Gazdic
Injured: Benoit Pouliot (foot), Nikita Nikitin (back)
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Barclay Goodrow - James Sheppard - Melker Karlsson
Andrew Desjardins - Chris Tierney - John Scott
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon - Brent Burns
Scott Hannan - Matt Tennyson
Scratched: Mirco Mueller, Matt Irwin, Tye McGinn
Injured: Raffi Torres (knee), Tyler Kennedy (shoulder), Mike Brown (lower body), Matt Nieto (ankle)
Status report: Niemi, coming off a shutout against Nashville, will make his second straight start. ... The Sharks' only lineup change is Scott replacing McGinn on the fourth line. ... The Oilers announced that Draisaitl, a native of Germany, will not play in the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship.
Who's hot: Thornton has six points (1-5-6) in his past three games. ... Pavelski has three goals and four points in his past three games. ... Nugent-Hopkins has two goals in his past four games and is tied with Hall for the team lead in goals with eight. Nugent-Hopkins leads the Oilers with 20 points. ... Hall has 17 points (8-9-17) in 18 career games against San Jose.