SAN JOSE, CA - While the Oilers are focused on building for next season, San Jose is a team locked in to the here and now with playoffs looming. The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth tonight if they defeat the Oilers in any fashion or if they get one point and the Arizona Coyotes lose to the Dallas Stars, or if Arizona loses in regulation.
That leaves Edmonton wanting to delay the Sharks celebrations if they can.
“We’ve had that talk here that we want to play that spoiler role as much as we can,” said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks. “I know we’re not in the spot right now to be in the playoff hunt, which is unfortunate. But, at the same time, we’re in a spot playing against good hockey teams who are playing desperate hockey. We can learn from these games and we can definitely take something out of them.”
Darnell Nurse could be a busy man tonight should the Sharks choose to levy retribution for the rookie defenceman’s fight with Roman Polak the last time these two teams met. Nurse received a three-game suspension for the incident.
“It was a heat of the moment thing,” said Nurse. “Obviously, you don’t want to ever see guys hurt or anything like that. It was probably crossing the line, but it’s over now. You guys are worried about what’s going to happen tonight. We’ll see. Both teams are looking for wins, so I’m looking forward to going out there and playing.”
The Sharks have recalled tough guy Micheal Haley from their American Hockey League affiliate. Haley has been an active fighter, logging over 150 professional fights. He’s played 10 NHL games this season and has scrapped five times.
“We had a 20-year-old that felt he needed to stand up for a teammate and his perception or read on a play was wrong and he crossed a line,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He stood up, he served his suspension and that’s where we’re at. We’ve come to play hockey. I think the ball is in their court. They have playoffs coming, and they get to dictate how the game goes. We’re going to go out and play hockey and see what happens.”
Hendricks was in a similar spot earlier this season when he answered the bell for a hit on Florida’s Aaron Ekblad that caused injury and earned a suspension.
“Being younger, it will help to be able to rely on the support of his teammates,” said Hendricks. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what their lineup is going to be like. Deep down inside, I don’t think a lot is going to happen. They’re in a tight spot right now with the playoffs and points right now are more important to them than retribution. I expect a good hockey game to be played tonight. Is it going to be a little more physical for Darnell? It might be, but he’s aware of that. He’s a big boy and he understands the game.”
Patrick Maroon, who sat out the Oilers last game due to illness, was on the ice for morning skate in dark blue with the team’s top-six forward group. Maroon will return to the lineup and skate with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle, per line rushes at the skate.
“I think he’ll be fine. He was a little under the weather, he’s had some time to recoup, hasn’t skated as much but he’ll be fine. We’ll play him and make judgement calls as the game goes on to see how effective he is,” said McLellan.
Adam Cracknell is another player who returns to the lineup. Usually on the wing with Edmonton, Cracknell, who hasn’t played since March 12, will centre Matt Hendricks and Iiro Pakarinen on the fourth line based off morning skate.
“I’ve kind of bounced around,” Cracknell said. “Through my career I’ve tried to learn to play every position to make myself more versatile for the team and I think that helps for a coach to be able to trust me in any of those positions. Playing centre is definitely something you have to adjust to quite a bit, especially in the d-zone.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did not take the morning skate, two days after leaving the game in Arizona following a check by Connor Murphy. With him not on the ice, Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl and Zack Kassian were on a line together. Nugent-Hopkins is out with a minor concussion and will continue to be evaluated.
“We’re going to treat it with kid gloves at this point,” said McLellan. “With where we are in the standings and the time of year, we’re not going to fool around with it. If he comes back to us and the doctors clear him then he’ll play again. If not, then he won’t.” Cam Talbot will start in net tonight for the Oilers.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (29-40-7) at SHARKS (41-26-6)
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET; SNOL, CSN-CA, NHL.TV
Season series: The San Jose Sharks have won two of three games against the Edmonton Oilers, including the only one decided in regulation. That came March 8, when James Reimer made 31 saves in a 3-0 victory at Rexall Place. Logan Couture scored the first two goals for San Jose.
Oilers team scope: Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left a 4-2 loss at the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday in the second period with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. "Hopefully he's good and he's able to come back and we continue experimenting a little bit and seeing what we have," coach Todd McLellan said. Edmonton hopes to have forward Patrick Maroon back in the lineup after he sat out Tuesday because of illness. Rookie center Connor McDavid has seven assists during a five-game point streak and has 42 points in 39 games. The Oilers have scored more than two goals once in their past nine games.
Sharks team scope: San Jose will try for a second time to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Sharks missed their first chance Tuesday when they lost 1-0 to the St. Louis Blues and the Coyotes defeated the Oilers. San Jose is 2-1-0 on a six-game homestand. Martin Jones, who made 23 saves in the loss to the Blues, could start again; he's played in five of San Jose's past eight games, though Reimer is 3-0-0 with two shutouts in the other three. The Sharks are five points behind the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings and one behind the second-place Anaheim Ducks. The loss to St. Louis was especially costly because the Kings and Ducks lost before the Sharks played. "It's disappointing," captain Joe Pavelski said afterward. "It's a missed opportunity. There aren't a lot of games left to make up points. You have to make a chance like that count."