The San Jose Sharks should be a vulnerable team. They played last night in Calgary, requiring a third-period goal from Patrick Marleau and a fantastic performance from Antti Niemi to squeak out a 3-2 win. They come to Edmonton tired, and backup goalie Alex Stalock, who hasn’t played since November, is expected to start.
On the other hand the Oilers have lost 11 straight games and if recent history is any guide making it an even dozen is well within the realm of possibility.
The Lottery Standings
Well, here we are.
On Saturday, the Oilers had the option of adding a useful centre for nothing; they declined to do so despite previously having been so convinced of the necessity of a spare centre that they kept Will Acton on the roster out of training camp. It’s a tell.
Edmonton’s season is over, even as two-thirds of the schedule lies before the team. They’ll probably get better; they won’t get 0.885 goaltending forever and at some point guys like David Perron (5.4 SH%, career 12.8 SH%) and Nail Yakupov (5.5 SH%, career 12.0 SH%) are going to start burying their chances. When those things start happening, the team will start winning some games. It won’t matter. Edmonton is 15 points out of the final wild card spot in the West and that’s too great a gap to make up.
At this point there are a bunch of teams that could overtake the Oilers for dead last in the NHL. Buffalo is a very good bet; if Edmonton wins tonight the Sabres will be only one point ahead and unlike the Oilers Ted Nolan’s team has been getting goaltending.
Finishing 30th gives a team a one-in-five shot at Connor McDavid. Finishing 29th drops that to roughly one-in-seven, and by 27th the chances are less than one-in-10.
We don’t know the line combinations Dallas Eakins will employ against San Jose; the above comes from Wednesday’s loss against Winnipeg. Boyd Gordon and Nikita Nikitin (along with Matt Hendricks) have been missing practices; my guess is that Nikitin sits while Gordon plays. If Gordon doesn’t play, the team will have all of three centres and the position will be really ugly. Defence is going to be ugly regardless of whether Nikitin dresses, but at this point it’s hard to argue with a straight face that a game or two off for the Russian is going to hurt the Oilers any.
We also don’t know which goalie will be starting for Edmonton. Ben Scrivens did have that glorious game against the Sharks last year; in the absence of any other indication that one goalie is more worthy of a start than the other it might be worth playing him against San Jose to remind him of better days.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
What are the Sharks blogs saying? This from Tim Chiasson at HockeyBuzz.
The focus now quickly shifts to the Edmonton Oilers with a start time of 9pmET(6pmPDT) tonight.
This is just the type of game the Sharks would lose. It’s the second game of a back-to-back and it’s against a lowly team. I can already hear the excuses if they do.
San Jose needs to re-group and get focused, fast. There is a pair of free points sitting on the table as long as they show up and play their game. No nonsense like the first two periods against Calgary.
Game Day Prediction: A win, because it has to happen at some point. Call it a 4-3 overtime decision.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: There will be a fight. It might be John Scott and Luke Gazdic, but let’s say instead it is former Oiler Mike Brown and Steve Pinizzotto. As with the fights in the Arizona and Winnipeg games, it will be totally irrelevant to the final score, but will prompt a round of ‘if only all the Oilers played like X.’
Not-so-obvious Game Day Prediction: Andrew Ference will make a great cross-ice pass to Taylor Hall, who will bury it for the game-winning goal. They will then hug like good friends.