EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers did not have a morning skate ahead of their game tonight against the San Jose Sharks. The projected lineup remains the same from their game against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday and from practice on Saturday. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyler Pitlick figure to be the top line. The line combinations project as follows:
Boyd Gordon, Nikita Nikitin (back) and Matt Hendricks (leg) missed practice on Friday and Saturday. It is not expected that Gordon will miss tonight’s game.
Projected defensive pairings:
Aulie-Fayne Klefbom-Petry Ference-Schultz
After their 11th straight loss on Wednesday night, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish addressed the media on Friday. Anytime the GM has to speak publicly like he did, it means the team is struggling and they are fully aware of that in the locker room.
“I spoke to the team this morning… It’s the worst day,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said on Friday. “There are days when the GM may come in and talk to the players himself and that’s a bad day. But the worst day is when my boss and the players’ boss has to come in here and get pelted with bullets and questions about the team. That responsibility falls on me, my staff and the players in that room. It’s something that I take personally and certainly all of our players should be taking it very personally.”
THAT FIRST WIN
The Oilers are aware that tonight is the start of a tough stretch against teams from California. But the players aren’t focused on the opponents or looking ahead past tonight’s game. For them, it’s all about getting that first victory after a tough stretch of losses.
“First of all, we’ve got to get a win here,” Oilers winger Luke Gazdic said on Saturday. “I think that’s the most important part. We’ve been working hard the last couple of days on different things. We know what kind of teams they are. They’re big and heavy, you hear that word heavy all the time but we’ve got to bring it and we’re looking to get a couple of points against San Jose here tomorrow.”
The Oilers host the Sharks tonight, then head to California for a back-to-back road swing against the Sharks and Ducks. Then they return home to host the Ducks after a day off in between.
UPPING THE COMPETE LEVEL
The Oilers have had eight of their 11 losses in this stretch decided by just one goal. Four have been decided in overtime. The Oilers feel like they’re so close but need to find a way to finish. That comes down to battle level.
“I think our battle level, our compete level needs to come up for sure,” Gazdic said. “All these games, out of the 11 that we’ve lost, eight of them have been one-goal games and four have been in overtime. That’s something you can’t really practice. That’s just got to be a compete level and a battle level that we have to switch on. We’ll be looking to get after that for sure.”
The Oilers had a conditioning skate on Friday and ran battle drills as well. The team is trying to up the tempo in order to see gains in their competitiveness.
“I think with a couple of days off, it’s just well-known that we have to compete,” Jordan Eberle said on Friday. “We have a couple of days to work on our skating, work on our compete level like we did today. Every drill today was a battle drill. We’ve addressed it in here. Our coach doesn’t have to, our GM doesn’t have to. From guy-to-guy, to myself, to Andrew, to the guys that have been here for a little bit, we know we have to up our compete level, up our battle level, our intensity level and not only that but execute a little better.”
QUICK NOTES: Taylor Hall has 8-9-17 in 16 games and Jordan Eberle has 6-9-15 in 15 career games against the Sharks. Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on a three-game point streak (1-2-3). Nugent-Hopkins had two goals and an assist the last time he played the Sharks (April 1, 2014).
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
SHARKS (14-10-4) at OILERS (6-15-5)
TV: CSN-CA, SNW
Season series: The San Jose Sharks won four of five games against the Edmonton Oilers last season. San Jose was shut out in the one loss, but scored 18 goals in the four victories.
Sharks team scope: The Sharks conclude their brief two-game Alberta trip in Edmonton after earning their fourth straight win Saturday, a 3-2 victory against the Calgary Flames. Logan Couture and Justin Braun each had a goal and an assist, and Tommy Wingels had two assists. Patrick Marleau scored the game-winning goal at 9:18 of the third period. "I don't know if we've found a groove, but we're finding a way to win," Marleau said. "We're not winning ideally, being down one or two goals isn't always fun, but we've been battling back and winning, so it's good to see." Goalie Alex Stalock is expected to start Sunday. He hasn't played since Nov. 8 because of a knee injury.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton hopes to end an 11-game losing streak (0-7-4) on Sunday. The skid continued Wednesday when the Oilers dropped a 3-2 shootout decision at the Winnipeg Jets. The catastrophic run has all but assured they will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a ninth straight season; they enter the game 30th in the NHL standings and 15 points behind the Jets for the second wild card in the Western Conference. "First of all, we've got to get a win here. That's the most important part," left wing Luke Gazdic told the Oilers website Saturday. "We've been working hard the last couple of days here on different things. We know what kind of teams they are. They're big and heavy. We've got to bring it and we're looking to get a couple of points here against San Jose tomorrow."