EDMONTON, AB - The San Jose Sharks (32-16-7) are in Edmonton to take on the Oilers (24-25-7) today at 5:00 p.m. MST at Rogers Place as part of Hockey Day in Canada festivities.
After a 4-3 overtime win for the Oilers back in November opened the season series, the Sharks have scored 14 times in two games against the Oilers in respective seven-goal shellings back on December 29 and January 8.
"They got a lot of guys that are feeling it," Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've got a lot of depth, so you work against one line then there's another line that pops up."
San Jose has won three straight and is 20-6-2 in their past 28 contests. A potent Sharks offence this season pulls from all depths of their lineup with seven players above 40 points this campaign, led by defenceman Brent Burns with 61 points (10G, 51A) in 55 games.
"They're a very deep team. They're three and at times when healthy four lines deep, and it's not easy to have that much depth in the league. But they got it right now."
In past meetings with the Sharks, Hitchcock has observed the relatively even amount of scoring chances between the two sides. But within the red zone, as Hitch put it to the media on Saturday morning, the Sharks smell blood against the Oilers.
"Even when we got drilled, there were a lot of good things that we did," Hitchcock, referencing the past two matchups, said. "The problem is that they're so good at taking advantage of mistakes. They scored so many goals in the red zone on us, and then you look at the end of the night you've got as many chances as they do. But they finish so well there.
"They've really made us pay in that area around the goal crease and net area, and they've really done a lot of damage there in the last two games."
Two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson could miss his seventh game in succession due to injury tonight, while the Oilers will be forced into one change due to injury by bringing Kevin Gravel into the lineup for Matt Benning alongside Brandon Manning due to a minor upper-body injury.
Cam Talbot gets his third-straight start between the pipes after making 35 saves for the Oilers in Thursday's 4-1 defeat of the Minnesota Wild. Jujhar Khaira and Kris Russell, who both missed Friday's practice, were green-lighted by Hitchcock for tonight's matchup.
There will be a handful of personnel changes for the Oilers tonight against San Jose from Thursday's victory in the North Star State.
In addition to Gravel and the confirmations on Khaira and Russell, centre Kyle Brodziak slots back in on the fourth line for Colby Cave beside wingers Jesse Puljujarvi and Tobias Rieder.
Hitchcock wants to see Brodziak, who was a healthy scratch versus Minnesota, refocus on his role in the bottom six without overstretching his boundaries on the ice.
"The reason he was brought here was to amp up the competitive level in the bottom six. There was a period of time when we had 27 and 44 on the wings, and he was very good. He's dropped off since," Hitchcock said.
"He needs to get back to that competitive game that he's capable of. Kyle's kind of at times his own worst enemy in that he overthinks, and when you overthink you under-react. We had some good chats yesterday and today about what's in his game, and I think today we'll see the player that we saw before."
Brodziak is the Oilers top performer in the faceoff circle at 52.6 percent this season, and depending on the zone and which side of the ice puck drops he could rotate regularly tonight with Brad Malone in the dot.
In the defensive zone is where Hitchcock wants to see Brodziak make his impact.
"Sometimes he gets so far ahead of himself that he forgets to just play in the moment," Hitchcock said. "Because he starts almost every shift in the defensive zone, he's under a lot of pressure to start. He's trying to play outside what he's capable of, and hopefully we'll get him back playing that gritty game."
Saturday's morning skate was optional before a scheduled team meeting. Lines appear to carry over from Friday, with the confirmed additions of Brodziak, Khaira, and Russell to the lineup.
Alex Petrovic remains a scratch for Hitchcock as the Edmonton, Alberta product awaits his opportunity and improves his decision-making on the back end.
"We almost put him in today because he's a right shot, so it's five lefties today and it'll be interesting to see how this transitions," Hitchcock said. "He's just got to wait his turn. They're working hard with him just to slow it down and make better decisions - passing pucks around players rather than through people, and he's getting better at it."
Draisaitl - McDavid - Rattie
Lucic - Nugent-Hopkins - Chiasson
Khaira - Malone - Kassian
Rieder - Brodziak - Puljujarvi
Klefbom - Larsson
Nurse - Russell
Manning - Gravel
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (24-25-5) vs. SHARKS (32-16-7)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet
Saturday will be the fourth of five meetings between the Oilers and Sharks this season. The Oilers are 1-2-0 against their Pacific Division opponents following a 7-2 defeat in their last meeting in San Jose on January 8, and have given up seven goals in two of those meetings.
The final meeting comes on April 4 back at Rogers Place in the Oilers second-last game of the regular season.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers snapped a six-game losing streak on Thursday thanks to a 35-save performance from Cam Talbot in a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. The two points keep the Oilers in the thick of the Wild Card race in the Western Conference with 53 - two back of the St. Louis Blues who have two fewer games played.
Darnell Nurse set a new career high for goals with his first-period marker against the Wild, and has already surpassed his career high for points this season with 28 games still on the Oilers schedule. Ty Rattie has two goals in his last four games, and had three assists against the Sharks back on December 29.
Saturday is the final home game for the Oilers until February 19 as they depart on an east coast road trip next week against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders.
Sharks team scope:
Chasing down the Calgary Flames for first in the Pacific Division, the Sharks topped Edmonton's provincial rivals on Thursday 5-2 to keep themselves two points out of top spot and win their fourth-straight game.
Joe Thornton registered his 1,000th assist for the Sharks on Evander Kane's first-period goal. He needs 82 points to surpass Patrick Marleau for the club's all-time lead in points.
Brent Burns leads the Sharks offensively with 61 points (11G, 50A) in 55 games, while fellow blueliner Erik Karlsson is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
By the Numbers:
The Sharks have won three-straight road games and are 14-12-3 away from home... San Jose has the second-best goals-per-game on the road in the NHL with 3.48... 68 goals scored and a ratio of plus-17 in the first period is the best in the league... Brent Burns is one of four players in the NHL this season with 50 assists...
The Oilers have earned a point in three of their last four games (1-1-2)... Edmonton has lost four straight at home and are 2-10-0 in their last 12 games at Rogers Place... The Oilers 75.1 percent penalty kill ranks 30th in the NHL... Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is five points away from tying a career-high of points (56) in 2013-14 and 2014-15...
OILERS -Andrej Sekera (Achilles) is on a conditioning stint in Bakersfield (AHL).
SHARKS - Erik Karlsson (undisclosed) is day-to-day.