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Slumping Oilers visit struggling Sharks

by Matthew Mankiewich /

OILERS (14-14-3) at SHARKS (16-10-3)

TV: CBC, CSN-California (HD)

LAST 10: Edmonton 3-6-1, San Jose 3-5-2

Season Series: It's the first of four meetings this season, and the Sharks have had the advantage the last three years, winning three of four in each.

Big Story: Both teams are going through rough stretches that have knocked them down a bit in the standings. The Sharks are tied with Phoenix for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference; the Oilers are four points behind and tied with provincial rival Calgary. However,, the Sharks are only two points behind Pacific Division-leading Dallas and will be playing the second of a six-game homestand that will close out the 2011 calendar year.

Team Scope:

Oilers: One step forward, two steps back. That's the way things have been going for the Oilers since the last time they strung two wins together during Thanksgiving week. Lose three, win one, lose two, win another, lose two more -- it's a trend that stands to undo the progress they made the opening six weeks of the season.

They looked at Thursday's game in Phoenix as a chance for a big turnaround. They had four days of rest after playing three games the four previous days and Taylor Hall was back in the lineup, so coach Tom Renney expected a higher energy level -- and didn't get it.

"I did not think this was going to happen tonight. I really didn't," said Renney told the Edmonton Journal after a 4-2 loss in which his team was solidly outplayed. "I thought we had three real good practices. I thought the guys were really engaged. The game plan was pretty simple."

"Slow start. A lot of turnovers," defenseman Tom Gilbert said in the Journal. "There was a lot of turning around and chasing the puck. They were waiting for our turnovers … It was a frustrating loss, especially after the break we had. We were looking for more energy and we definitely didn't get that in the first period."

Sharks: It hasn't been traditional Sharks hockey, that's for sure. Six losses in seven games, including a pair of blown third-period leads, created a negative buzz around coach Todd McLellan and his job security, especially given the six coaching changes in the NHL already this season. There's one sure-fire way to quash such rumors and the Sharks used it to the fullest advantage possible, overcoming a 4-2 Colorado lead with three unanswered third-period goals to win 5-4 on Thursday.

"We decided it was our turn to come back," said center Logan Couture, whose deflection of a shot by Patrick Marleau at 11:29 held up as the winning goal. "We turned it around there in the third, and it's a big win for us."

One possible wake-up call was the chorus of boos they heard in HP Pavilion as they returned to the locker room for the second intermission down a pair.

"I think guys kind of take that and know we've got to play better. It's kind of a bottom level for us," Pavelski said of the booing, which he acknowledged was deserved. "Then we started doing some things right and they were cheering for us. You feel the energy keep climbing in the building."

Who's Hot: Jamie McGinn welcomed some extra power-play time with extra production, scoring two goals and three points in the last three games, one of those tallies with a man advantage. … Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been kept off the board only twice since his five-assist night Nov. 19 versus Chicago for a total of 19 points in 13 games (6g, 13 a). Hall came back not a moment too soon from a shoulder injury that cost him nearly three weeks, as he scored both of his team's goals in the Phoenix loss.

Injury Report: Nikolai Khabibulin missed his second straight game Thursday and two practices this week, but the Oilers say he's just getting some rest. Oilers defenseman Cam Barker (ankle) is still looking at a February return. … Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray (hand) is eligible to return Saturday from injured reserve, but he remains day-to-day. Defenseman Jim Vandermeer (upper body) went on IR after missing three games, which has since grown to five.

Stat Pack: Martin Havlat recorded his third multi-point game of the season Thursday with two assists. The Sharks have allowed eight power-play goals in their last 22 man-down opportunities. …  Ryan Smyth has followed the pattern of his team, scoring 11 goals in his first 19 games, dropping to just one in his last 12, earning him a commensurate drop to the third line with Ryan Jones and Eric Belanger.

Puck Drop: "If that's what's motivating us, we should have 17 or 18,000 of them starting in warm-up," he said. "That's not a good motivator, in my opinion, but they are well aware of it. They can hear it." -- McLellan reacting to players citing the fans' booing as an incentive for Thursday's turnaround.

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