SAN JOSE, CA - A share of first place in the Pacific Division heading into the NHL All-Star break is up for grabs for the Oilers tonight as they wrap up a mini two-game road trip against the San Jose Sharks.
The Oilers are coming off a superb 4-0 shutout win over the Anaheim Ducks last night, which brought them up to 62 points - one back of Anaheim for second place and two behind the Sharks for top spot. With the Ducks idle tonight, an Edmonton win would create a tie atop the division standings.
While that achievement would be a nice feather in their caps, the Oilers are determined to not get too high on their success, with 31 games left on the schedule after the break.
"We know we're a growth team, we know we've got a lot to learn," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "Tonight's another opportunity for us to take that step… The key for us right now is to play well against San Jose. As soon as you start to lop yourself in and determine that you need to do this or that in the standings, which you obviously don't control, I think you tend to get into trouble."
"We're not having parties right now because we're in a playoff spot," added Zack Kassian, who scored a big insurance goal late in the second period vs. Anaheim. "There's still a lot of hockey to be played. These are good teams we're playing and we can't get complacent. If we do that, we're not a good hockey team. Our team revolves around hard work and then our skill takes over from there. That's what we're looking to do tonight against a good opponent."
The Sharks hold the top spot in the Pacific for a reason. They've got a stellar 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games, and they're the only divisional opponent the Oilers have yet to defeat this season.
The teams have squared off twice thus far, with the Sharks squeaking out a 3-2 overtime victory on December 23 in San Jose, despite Oilers goals from Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. Edmonton had a chance to hold the top spot in Pacific heading into the holiday break with a win, but they were bested by a Sharks squad that out-shot them 31-18.
"We'd like to play better in this building than we did last time under similar circumstances heading into a break," McLellan said. "Make sure our focus is a little better than it was pre-Christmas."
They met again at Rogers Place on January 10, with Mikkel Boedker scoring three goals to lead the visiting Sharks to a 5-3 decision. The Oilers have posted just five wins in their last 16 meetings with the Sharks, but this season they've displayed a tendency to reverse their fate against teams they've struggled with in recent years, as evidenced by their 18-5-6 record vs. Western Conference opponents.
"They're a veteran team," McLellan said of his former club. "They know how to play, they stick to their systems, they have talented players, their goaltender gives them a chance, and they have experience. It's always a tough night against them."
Playing mostly on the team's checking line alongside Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks, Kassian isn't expected to contribute a lot of offence. However, he went through a stretch of bad luck earlier this season with a few of the goals he did generate getting disallowed.
That luck has changed as of late, as the 26-year-old right-winger is currently on a five-game point streak, with two goals and three assists in that span. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are also riding five-game point streaks - company Kassian certainly doesn't mind keeping for as long as he can.
"I don't think you'd hear that too often," he laughed. "But it's good for as long as it lasts… My game doesn't revolve around points, but if I'm contributing in that aspect of the game, that's a positive for our hockey team."
Kassian is up to four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 47 games, with a shot to catch his career high of 29 points with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14.
In terms of any lineup notes or changes, Coach McLellan said the team will evaluate several players' statuses following pre-game warmup and make any necessary adjustments.
"We'll see what happens after warmup," the coach said. "Like every other team in the league, there are bumps and bruises."
The Oilers had a back-to-back this past weekend vs. Nashville and Calgary that saw Laurent Brossoit make his first start of the season. However, Coach McLellan did not commit to either Cam Talbot or Brossoit for tonight's game. Talbot turned aside all 26 shots he faced last night vs. Anaheim for his fourth shutout of 2016-17.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (27-15-8) at SHARKS (31-16-2)
TV: 8:30 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the third meeting of the season between the Oilers and Sharks. San Jose won 3-2 in overtime on December 23 and on January 10, the Sharks defeated the Oilers 5-3 at Rogers Place.
These two teams will meet two more times this season, March 30 in Edmonton and April 6 back in San Jose.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers sit in third place in the Pacific Division, one point behind Anaheim and two points behind first-place San Jose.
Edmonton has picked up points in each of their last seven games (6-0-1) and look to head into the break on an eight-game streak.
With a power play rating of 25.0% for road games, the Oilers are tied for fourth in the NHL in that category.
Five different Oilers have scored one goal this season against the Sharks: Connor McDavid, Oscar Klefbom, Patrick Maroon, Drake Caggiula and Matt Benning. McDavid is the only Oilers player with more than one point over the two games against San Jose, with two.
McDavid continues to lead the NHL in scoring with 57 points (16 goals, 41 assists in 50 games). Leon Draisaitl, with two goals last night in Anaheim, now leads the Oilers in goals with 19.
Sharks team scope:
San Jose is in first place in the Pacific Division with 64 points, two ahead of third-place Edmonton.
The Sharks are red hot right now having won each of their last six games. Overall in January, they are 8-3-1 which is the same as Edmonton.
Defenceman Brent Burns leads all Sharks in points with 51 (21 goals, 30 assists in 49 games). Burns leads all NHL blueliners in scoring and is fourth in overall scoring in the entire NHL.
Joe Pavelski is second on the team in scoring with 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists in 49 games).
Joe Thornton is fourth on the Sharks in overall points with 31. Thornton, however, only has three goals on the entire season. He had 19 goals last season but the three match his career-low from his rookie year which was set in 55 games back in 1997-98. Thornton has taken only 49 shots on goal all season long. In 56 career games against the Oilers, Thornton has 11 goals and 61 points.