The Oilers will wrap up their California getaway tonight in San Jose. It’s been an ugly trip for a team who’s supposed to be excellent against Pacific Division opponents.
1. Like I mentioned with Anaheim yesterday, the Oilers and Shark have played each other just once so far this season. The schedule was bizarre this year and featured a bunch of intra-conference games early on and a divisional heavy schedule in the latter half. So here we are. It’s February and the only meeting between the Oilers and Sharks came back on Dec. 8 in which Edmonton came out with a 5-3 win. They’ll play each other tonight and then two more times before the end of the season.
2. Last season, the Oilers and Sharks played five times in the regular season. It’s interesting to look back on because it kind of shows the progression of the team that year. They lost the first two games against San Jose but then went on to win the next three. A key reason for Edmonton’s success last year was how well they played within the division. Of course, after that, they went on to take down the Sharks in six games in the playoffs. Those were good times.
3. The Sharks are in a playoff spot, hanging on to the third seed in the Pacific, but they’ve been scuffling as of late. They’ve dropped back-to-back games and have just two wins in their last eight games. They’re right in the middle of that jumble of four teams seeking two spots in the Pacific playoff picture as Calgary and Anaheim are tied with San Jose in points but have played more games. It’s an interesting race to follow and it’s impossible to predict which of those teams will end up making the playoffs.
4. A key reason why San Jose has been scuffling is the injury to Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe went on the Injured Reserve to repair his right medial collateral ligament and is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. Without him, the Sharks are 2-5. There’s no denying how much better the Sharks are with Thornton than they are without. The team’s offence is ran through him and Brent Burns and he’s a major catalyst in generating offence for the Sharks. With Thornton out, the load has been placed largely on Burns to drive offence. I think this was really noticeable in last year’s playoff series between Edmonton and San Jose. The Sharks got Thornton back from injury in the third game and looked like a way better team.
5. The Sharks are a team that relies heavily on their special teams to be successful. At even strength, they look like a lottery team. They rank 27th in the NHL in even strength goals for with 88 and are 19th in goals against with 104. They’re a top-third team in shot attempt differential at even strength, but they’re on the cusp of being a bottom-third team in terms of high danger chance percentage at even strength. That, to me, indicates they play a tight trap game at even strength and look to capitalize with special teams.
6. Special teams have been huge for the Sharks this year. They rank third in the league with a 24 per cent power play and second with an 84.3 per cent penalty kill. They’ve scored 153 goals this season and 44 of them have come with the man advantage. Even without Thornton, the Sharks have scored on 35.3 per cent of their power plays over the last seven games.
7. The Oilers have struggled mightily on the penalty kill, as we know. They rank dead last in the league in penalty kill percentage, but rank first in penalty kill on the road. Last night in Anaheim they killed both of their penalties off, continuing the abnormal trend of being absurdly good at killing penalties on the road. I have a difficult time wrapping my head around this one. To me, home and away special team splits are pretty meaningless because all you’re doing is shrinking one large sample size into two smaller sample sizes. But the Oilers continue to kill penalties very well on the road. It’ll be interesting to see if they can stop San Jose’s good power play.
8. Aaron Dell will start for the Sharks tonight, while Al Montoya will get a start in relief of Cam Talbot. Dell has been very good this year, as he owns a .919 save percentage in 23 appearances. Surprisingly, that’s better than what Martin Jones has done thus far. Since joining the Oilers in early January, Montoya has been very effective. He’s made four appearances, just one start, and has a .921 save percentage. This will be his fifth game, so if he plays in two more, the pick the Oilers gave Montreal will become a fourth rather than a third.
9. There isn’t much interesting to talk about as the Oilers ride out the season, so let’s keep track of Connor McDavid’s Art Trophy race. He had an assist last night and now ranks fourth in the league with 64 points. He’s behind Nikita Kucherov who has 68 and Johnny Gaudreau and Phil Kessel who have 65.
10. Here’s something fun from the Sharks Reddit I think Oilers fans will enjoy. “AND…damn do I miss Drew Remenda. Neither Hahn or Hedican had the balls to call out Burns for either of the terrible defensive plays in last night’s game. I wouldn’t expect Hahn to do so, but Hedican (as a former NHL D-man) clearly lacks the guts to ever say anything critical of a Sharks’ player. Drew would have spoken the truth and called Burns’ out. I guess that’s why he got let go, can’t be having the home broadcasters giving actual real commentary on the games.” Remenda was a video coach for the Sharks back during their early days and knows a lot about that team. It doesn’t endear him to Oilers fans at all, but Sharks fans really liked him.
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