Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are a combined cap hit of $28.07 million for the Sharks, and they are a combined -40. Marleau is an ugly -17, while Thorton sits at -12, Boyle at -10, while Heatley is the oddball at -1. The Sharks have lost five straight, they’ve been shutout three times in their past nine games, and they are currently sitting in 11th place in the Western conference. They won’t have their leading goal scorer, Logan Couture, tonight due to a deep bruise from a collision with the Leafs’ Colton Orr on Tuesday, and with only ten wins in 22 home games the Oilers might have a fighting chance tonight.
If the Sharks played in a Canadian market they would be getting ripped daily by the media and their fans. They have a payroll of $59 million, almost half of that from four guys, and none of them are averaging even a point a game. For years the Sharks have been the poster boy for underachieving in the playoffs, but through 44 games they are easily the biggest disappointment in the NHL. ** Okay maybe the Devils are a bigger one, but some felt the Devils would slip this year, no one picked the Sharks to be this bad.**
Since the lockout the Sharks were 131-45-29 at home, prior to this season. In those five years they averaged a stellar home record of 26-9-6. The HP Pavillion was one of the toughest places to play, but this year the Sharks have lost to the likes of Toronto, Buffalo, Carolina, and Columbus (twice). Even though the Sharks have beaten the Oilers three times this year, the Oilers shouldn’t enter the game worried that they’ll get dominated.
Taylor Hall played his first NHL game as a centreman in Dallas and after a tentative start I thought he got progressively better as the game went on. He was around the puck a lot more than in previous games, and it seemed Ales Hemsky was looking for him in the offensive zone.
His faceoff % wasn’t great at 38, but that is a bit misleading.
Hall was very good in the offensive zone winning six of nine. He only took one draw in the defensive zone and lost it. He struggled the most in the neutral zone, winning only two of eleven. By winning six of ten in the offensive and defensive zones it seems Hall is more prepared when the draws are more important.
Many centres have told me that they like to experiment in the neutral zone. They try different things, sometimes they want to give the opposing centre a different look, and/or something to think about the next time they battle in the dot. Others have admitted they aren’t as focused in the neutral zone. I’m not sure if Hall fits into any of the aforementioned categories, but I’ll take a guy who wins 67% of his draws in the offensive zone, and not fret too much over neutral zone draws.
I’d like to see more of Hall in the middle, and it sounds like Tom Renney will keep him there for a few more games, and possibly up until Shawn Horcoff returns.
Hall’s switch to centre was the main focus last game, but once the game started the trio of Sam Gagner, Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi were surprisingly effective. They didn’t register any points, but I thought Paajarvi skated better than he has in the past ten games. Omark battled hard, took a big hit from Jamie Langenbrunner but it didn’t stop him from going into the tough areas later in the game. Gagner was moving his feet all night and distributed the puck very effectively. They didn’t get hemmed in their own zone for extended period of times, and all three of them skated with a purpose all night.
The Oilers might have played their most complete game of the season in Dallas. They didn’t give up many scoring chances, fired a season-high 41 shots on goal and didn’t give up a PP goal. They didn’t win but should have lots confidence heading into San Jose.
GOOD PK COULD EQUAL W
The Oilers are 86% in their last 17 games killing off 49 of 57 penalties, and they will need to continue that trend if they want to win tonight. The Sharks are 5th in the NHL at 21.7%, but they are only 1 for 16 in their past five games and they’ve lost all five.
In the Sharks’ 21 wins they are 30% on the PP (29 for 96), but in their losses they are only 12% (10 for 84). It seems pretty clear that if the Sharks get a few PP goals their chances of winning increase dramatically.
Devan Dubnyk will start in goal tonight, and regardless of the outcome, if he plays well Renney should put him back in the pipes in LA. Dubnyk hasn’t started in back-to-back games when Nikolai Khabibulin has been healthy this year, but the time has come for the 14th overall pick in 2004 to get some more starts.
In the last month Dubnyk has started four times and has a 1.98 GAA , 0.931 SV% and went 1-1-2, while Khabibulin went 1-8 with a 3.44 GAA and 0.885 SV%. Khabibulin has lost his last seven starts, so please stop with the argument that he gives the Oilers the best chance to win. He did at the start of the season, but in the last month he hasn’t been better.
It is time to give Dubnyk more starts.
- Look for Steve MacIntyre to be in the lineup more often. Yesterday Renney said he will look at the odd MacIntyre penalty in the same light as he would a young player making a mistake. He will deal with it.
- I’m not sure what the market value will be for Zack Stortini, but I don’t see him being in Edmonton past the trade deadline. Unless the team is trying to shop JF Jacques, it seems that Stortini can’t get out of Renney’s doghouse. It has become clear the team thinks Jacques is a better skater, and that MacIntyre is tougher. I think Stortini brings a more complete and consistent game than either of those two, but a change of address seems likely for #46.
- I thought Taylor Chorney looked faster and stronger in his season debut in Dallas. My concern is that I don’t see one element that he excels at. He won’t be a shut down guy, and with Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry here I don’t see him becoming an offensive D-man. He can fill a role for now, but I’m not sure he fits in long term in Edmonton.
- Ryan Jones has ten goals splitting time on the 3rd and 4th lines. I’d resign him for two years, and $1 million/year. Don’t break the bank on him, and it makes no sense to trade him for a 2nd or 3rd rounder. Jones gives you a pretty consistent effort every night, and looks like he is a solid bottom six forward.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Even without Logan Couture, the Sharks are too much for the Oilers. The Oilers will play well again, and Dubnyk will earn them a point, but they’ll lose 3-2 in OT.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Sharks will score on their first PP, and the posters will rip me for bringing up the Sharks’ PP success. The Oilers will rebound and kill of the next four PPs, but it won’t be enough to earn them the victory.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Our resident diehard Oiler fan, and founder of the Nation, Wanye Gretz is back from panhandling in Mexico and watching Coyotes games for $20. He will be so excited to wear his Eberle Pajamas and Oilers socks that he got for Christmas for an Oiler game, that he’ll forget the game starts at 8:30 MST. By 7:10 he will have six posts on this thread screaming about his TV not working and he can’t believe the only Oiler game of the year not on TV is tonight. JS and BM will immediately try to calm him down by suggesting he come to their site and make fun of girls that have shot them down in the past. Wanye happily joins their chat, and since the list of SHUT DOWNS is long, they end up missing the first 50 minutes of the game. Wanye curses their name and vowes he will never speak to them again, unless they make it up to him by getting him tickets to an Oiler game in February.