Todd McLellan will try to patch together three defensive pairings to compete against the surging San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are the fourth highest scoring team in the NHL, with Joe Thornton leading the way scoring 37 points in his last 29 games.
McLellan admitted his D pairs are in pencil, and could change often depending how the game progresses.
Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne are the most stable pairing, and should see a regular dose of Thornton’s line. Meanwhile, Adam Pardy will play the right side with Griffin Reinhart, and Darnell Nurse and Adam Clendening will skate together.
The best way to defend the Sharks will be for the Oilers forwards to spend more time in the offensive zone. The Flames dominated the Sharks last night in Calgary, outshooting them 48-23, but Martin Jones was outstanding, stopping 47 shots in San Jose’s 2-1 OT victory.
The Oilers have given up a lot of shots over the past four games, 134, but they’ve actually put more rubber on the opposing goalies with 139 shots. The addition of Patrick Maroon alongside Leon Draisaitl and Taylor Hall has led to more offensive zone time. They haven’t been a one-and-done line, instead they are holding on to the puck more and creating second and third shots and chances.
One of the biggest benefits of having some skilled size in your top six, is that players like Maroon and Zack Kassian don’t get knocked off the puck easily. They can hold onto it and allow more offensive zone time for the more skilled players like Hall, Draisialt, Jordan Eberle and Connor McDavid.
With a depleted defensive corps, the forwards need to help their defence by spending more time in the offensive zone. The Oilers will need to capitalize on their chances, and their powerplay needs to start hitting the net. They missed the net on eight of nine PP shots last game, according to McLellan, and when your blueline isn’t at full strength due to injury it will be up to the forwards to lessen the burden.
- Lauri Korpikoski will start on McDavid’s left wing, but McLellan hinted the forward lines could be juggled like the D corps. Nail Yakupov and Eberle are not a great pair. The line works better with a bigger winger like Benoit Pouliot, so I understand why McLellan will try Korpikoski or Kassian.
- Maroon has fit in very well with Hall and Draisaitl. He is excellent below the hashmarks, which works well with Draisaitl. Hall can carry the puck in the zone, and he can use his speed out of turns or cycles, like he did versus the Jets, and get the puck to Maroon in close. Maroon sees the ice well. He knows how to play with skilled players, from his time alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and he has read Hall and Draisaitl very well the past few games.
- The PP units are a work in progress due to injuries and new players coming in. The first unit has McDavid, Hall, Draisaitl, Eberle and Sekera, while the second unit was Yakupov, Maroon, Letestu, Clendening and Reinhart. They aren’t ideal, and I’m guessing the first unit will eventually have a bigger net front body inserted in there, but those five players have enough skill that they should be able to score more than one goal every 22 PP chances.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Finally, the race is on in Alberta to see which team will finish in the cellar of the Pacific as the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are tied with 59 points, although Calgary does have two games in hand. After dropping 10 of 11 games, the Oilers have played some decent hockey by winning four of five as they look to finish ahead of the rival Flames.
San Jose has an opportunity to grab another two points tonight with both the Ducks and Kings idle as they wrap up their back-to-back in Alberta with a matchup against the Oilers. Hopefully the Sharks will have more of the puck tonight and not have to rely on a tremendous performance from their netminder to steal two points.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Cam Talbot continues his stellar play and leads the Oilers to a 4-2 upset victory. He stops 33 shots.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Thornton picks up his 49th assist of the season.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Korpikoski continues his shocking goal scoring prowess, tallying his third goal in four games. After the game he said, “When Jere Lehtonen (Finnish GM) called to tell me I was on the World Cup team it was great. He told me he believed in me, but said I need to start scoring more if I want to play a lot in the tournament. Going 32-games without a goal was embarrassing. I said to myself, ‘Self, you are Finnish for gawd’s sake, start proving it. Show some finish on the ice,” he said with a wink to Gene Principe. “That’s good, eh Geno?” said Korpikoski
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