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Oilers skate into San Jose for a 6:00 match-up

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
The California road trip continues for the Edmonton Oilers with stop number two coming tonight in San Jose when the team faces the Sharks (6:00 p.m. MDT, Sportsnet).

Its been a rough couple of weeks for the Oilers with six straight losses heading into tonights game. Not helping things is the fact that the team is still hurting from a plethora of injuries. Once again tonight, they will go with 12 forwards and only five defencemen.

Last game, youngsters Matt Greene and Ladislav Smid fared well despite the teams 5-1 loss to Anaheim. Playing on a shorthanded blueline, Smid led the team with 27:04 of icetime and Greene racked up a career high 26:57 of ice. Both players had an even plus/minus rating on the night.

"Matt was very good," Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish commented. "That's what you want to see. There's lots of things out of control in this game but you can show the fire every night. He was intense early and then got into a heady game. He stripped a lot of guys with his stick."

Defenceman Bryan Young, playing his first career NHL game, also acquitted himself well playing 14:19.

"Before the game I was fairly nervous, but thats probably natural. I just tried to get the first couple of shifts out of the way and build from there," said Young.

In addition to keeping the defence in tact, the Oilers will be looking to solve their offensive woes tonight. With only five goals in their past six outings, the club is looking to break out with a few this evening.

"We are trying more things in practice - more individual things, more discussion about spots in the net and what we want to try and accomplish when we do get to the net," said MacTavish. "Shooting for rebounds when we are off the angles. Deflections, screens - we have been going over and over that stuff."

San Jose is part of a logjam right now in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff picture. They currently sit at 83 points, tied with Dallas and Minnesota for fifth but only one point ahead of Calgary who are in eighth at 82 points.

For awhile it looked like the Sharks might challenge Anaheim for top spot in the Pacific Division but the team went 5-9-2 over a 16-game stretch from late January through early March that nixed those hopes.

Just recently, the team has started to show some life, beginning with a 4-0 win over Dallas last week.

"We talked about starting better. In seven of the last nine games, at some point we were down 2-0. And in five of those nine games it was in the first period," noted Sharks head coach Ron Wilson following that Dallas win, ending a four-game winless skid.

San Jose followed up that victory with another shutout – 3-0 versus Minnesota. In their last game, they gutted out a point in a 2-1 overtime loss to Vancouver.

"We need more guys playing with a sense of urgency that just doesn't show at home the way it does on the road," Wilson said after the Vancouver game. "It seems that we're much more focused and intense in road games. Maybe we're more afraid of losing. We should be more physical and a whole lot angrier."

San Joses big trade deadline acquisition, Bill Guerin, still has to find his game. In five games since joining the Sharks Guerin has no points and is a -2.

"The problem has been he has been with two linemates who haven't practiced," said Wilson. "(Yesterday) was the first practice that Patty (Marleau) and (Joe) Pavelski have been in in almost three weeks. You can't create chemistry by just stepping on the ice and playing without even practising."

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between Edmonton and San Jose. The Oilers have won twice but San Jose won the most recent encounter by a score of 5-1.

ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton - Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Marty Reasoner (shoulder) is out. Steve Staios (knee) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is out. Mathieu Roy (concussion) is out. Tom Gilbert (concussion) is out. Jan Hejda (shoulder) is out. Ales Hemsky (shoulder) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is out. Shawn Horcoff (foot) is probable. Brad Winchester (leg) is probable. Danny Syvret (flu) is probable. San Jose – Vesa Toskala (groin) is out. Mark Smith (groin) is out.

OILERS TO WATCH: Petr Sykora hasnt picked up a point in the last seven games for the Oilers but he had some chances on Friday in Anaheim, firing five shots on goal Keep an eye on the teams defence again. Ladislav Smid, Matt Greene and Jason Smith logged the majority of minutes on Friday and did fairly well. Danny Syvret also logged a lot of minutes on Friday (a career high 23:14) but with a touch of the flu tonight that may be scaled back slightly.

SHARKS TO WATCH: Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has found his game again after struggling earlier this season, almost out of necessity due to a Vesa Toskala injury. Nabokov broke a franchise record for shutout minutes last game, going 166:07 without allowing a goal until Vancouvers Taylor Pyatt scored in the third period Patrick Marleau leads the Sharks with 30 goals but last game snapped a six-game scoreless drought interrupted by injury. He hasnt had more than one shot on goal in nine games but that goal against Vancouver just might be the catalyst to get his game back on track now that hes healthy and ready to go.
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