SAN JOSE, CA - With or without Taylor Hall, the Oilers will look to continue to get contributions from their top forward line as they wrap up a mini two-game road trip tonight against the San Jose Sharks.
Hall has been dealing with a bruised lower leg for the past week after getting hit with a shot during last Monday’s practice. Interim head coach Todd Nelson has listed the left-winger as a game-time decision for tonight against the Sharks. Hall has participated in the team’s last two morning skates, today in San Jose and Saturday in Calgary.
TOP LINE CHEMISTRY
Benoit Pouliot has been filling in for Hall on the Oilers top forward line alongside Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and that trio generated both of Edmonton’s goals during Saturday’s game in Calgary. Unfortunately, the Oilers ended up on the wrong side of the 4-2 decision after letting the Flames crawl back from a 2-0 deficit. They hope the top-line contributions continue tonight with a different outcome.
“Ben’s been good,” Nelson said. “I like the size and I like the fact that he can retrieve pucks and goes to the net hard. He’s a nice complement right now with that line, and we want to see them produce once again.”
On the team’s first goal against the Flames, Nugent-Hopkins won an offensive zone faceoff back to Eberle, who fired a shot on net that beat Jonas Hiller high blocker side with some help from Pouliot’s screen. On their second tally, RNH won another draw and Eberle battled behind the net to find Pouliot in front for the one-timer on the doorstep.
“We’ve got a good chemistry going,” said Pouliot, who has an impressive eight goals in 12 games since returning to the Oilers lineup following his foot injury. “Things have been going well. Those two guys are so skilled. It’s a fast line too that can skate. We support each other in the offensive zone, make plays on the cycle and we’re capitalizing on those plays.”
“(Pouliot) works extremely hard every shift,” Nugent-Hopkins said of his and Eberle’s new linemate. “He’s a guy who likes to be first on the forecheck and wins a ton of battles out there. When he’s first on the forecheck and winning those loose pucks, it makes things easier for us.”
HALL STATUS TBD
If Hall is able to play tonight, Pouliot will likely slide back down to a line with Derek Roy and Nail Yakupov, but team doesn’t want to rush one of its stars back from injury. Coach Nelson said the Oilers will monitor Hall’s leg throughout the day leading up to the game and make a decision.
“That’s what we’re looking at right now, which direction to go with this,” Nelson said. “It’ll be a conversation we have tonight with our medical staff, Taylor and myself.”
REDEMPTION FROM CALGARY
Heading into Saturday’s game against the Flames, the Oilers had won three of their previous four games, and they got off to a perfect start with a 2-0 lead on their provincial rivals. However, they could not withstand Calgary’s comeback, and despite weathering the storm in the middle frame, gave up four goals in the third to lose 4-2.
The Oilers know they can’t make the same mistakes against an equally strong Sharks squad that is coming off big wins against Western Conference juggernauts Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim in their last three outings.
“We’ve got to play better than we did in Calgary to beat the Sharks, especially in their building,” Pouliot said. “We can’t let our foot off the pedal. We want to go hard and score more goals. In the third, we completely messed that one up and it cost us the game.”
“It was a tough game last game,” Matt Hendricks added. “Our job is to forget about that one, learn the lesson and move on to the next game. We have to play that committed 60 minutes of hockey, find that killer instinct, that winning attitude that when you’re up by two goals going into the third there’s not a chance the other team is going to come back.”
FASTH STARTS IN NET
Between the pipes, it will be Viktor Fasth for the Oilers going up against Antti Niemi for the Sharks. This will be Fasth’s first game against San Jose this season after Ben Scrivens played the previous three, but he did face them three times in 2012-13 with the Anaheim Ducks, picking up a pair of wins. Fasth has posted three consecutive strong starts for the Oil, winning two of them in shootouts and stopping 82 of 90 shots.
“I like the way he’s been playing,” Coach Nelson said of the Swedish puck-stopper. “We’ll be looking for the same effort out of him.”
The Oilers will be hard-pressed to put up a lot of goals tonight on San Jose’s Niemi, who has a 10-1-1 lifetime record against Edmonton, back-stopped the Sharks in all three wins on their current three-game streak and hasn’t lost in regulation in his last six appearances.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (13-28-9) at SHARKS (27-17-6)
TV: SNOL, CSN-CA
Season series: The San Jose Sharks have won two of the three games against the Edmonton Oilers, including each of the two at SAP Center. Sharks forward Barclay Goodrow has two goals and an assist and Joe Pavelski has two goals. Oilers forward Jordan Eberle has a goal and two assists.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton was defeated 4-2 by the Calgary Flames on Saturday after scoring the first two goals. The road loss was the 20th for the Oilers this season (4-13-7), but they do have points in four of their past seven road games (2-3-2). After visiting San Jose, the Oilers face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday before a season-high six-game road trip. Ben Scrivens has allowed three or more goals in four of his past five starts, so backup Viktor Fasth, who has four wins this season, all on the road, could get the start. Eberle has two goals and two assists in his past four games. Defenseman Nikita Nikitan (shoulder) did not play Saturday. Forward Taylor Hall (foot) has missed the past three games.
Sharks team scope: San Jose concludes a seven-game homestand (4-1-1) against Edmonton, and has won three straight against the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks. Goalie Antti Niemi made 31 saves in a 2-0 shutout against the Blackhawks on Saturday, but there may be some changes in the lineup Monday. Forwards Tyler Kennedy (lower body) and Daniil Tarasov, who was recalled from Worchester of the American Hockey League on Thursday, could play. Coach Todd McLellan said forward Tye Mcginn, who was injured Saturday, and defenseman Scott Hannan, who left the game after a hit and didn't return, will be reevaluated Monday morning, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Forward Patrick Marleau has six points in his past five games (two goals, four assists).