The Oilers will look to snap their four-game losing streak when the Sharks come to town for a Saturday matinee game. Here are your game day notes.
1. The Oilers are currently riding a four-game losing streak. They had one four-game losing streak earlier in the season, back when they lost to Washington, Tampa Bay, and Florida on that difficult Eastern swing before coming home and putting up a lacklustre loss to Colorado. They would hammer the Canadiens after that but then go ahead and drop back-to-back games against Calgary and Vegas, ultimately costing Todd McLellan his job.
2. A loss against San Jose would give the Oilers their first five-game skid of the season. They had two different skids of five or more games last season. A six-game skid came in February that dropped the Oilers from sort of in the mix for the cusp of the playoffs to completely out of the picture and the other came in the dying days of the season. In 2016-17, the Oilers had one five-game losing streak, which came in mid-November. They would also have a four-game skid in December before they figured things out and dominated down the stretch.
3. The Oilers are currently 18-16-3, sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points out of a playoff spot. For the sake of comparison, Edmonton was 17-18-2 on this date last year. They had a nice little streak before Christmas to pull themselves into the mix but imploded after the break. In 2016-17, they were 18-12-6 coming out of the break, and, as I mentioned above, dominated down the stretch. There’s still half the season left, but as we saw last year, a really bad stretch could sink the season in a hurry.
4. Edmonton’s rough stretch the past few weeks has shown just how valuable Oscar Klefbom is to the team. The team is 1-4-1 since Klefbom got hurt in that game against Colorado and their only win came against the hapless Flyers club. As Jonathan Willis pointed out, Oilers defenders have had a difficult time picking up the slack in Klefbom’s absence. Getting Kris Russell (who was also hurt in that game against Colorado) back into the lineup will certainly help, but the Oilers are missing Klefbom’s ability to log big minutes, help drive offence with good breakout passes, and quarterback the power play.
5. Sticking with Willis’ tweet, one positive during this ugly stretch has been Caleb Jones, who has been impressive in his first five NHL games. Jones has logged an average of 16:44 minutes per game, he has a shot attempt differential at even strength of 58 percent, he has an even goal differential at even strength, and the eye test indicates a cool and composed player who thinks quickly and doesn’t appear intimidated at the NHL level. Russell will be activated soon, and, at this point, you can’t send Jones back to the AHL. While it has been a small sample size, Jones has been one of Edmonton’s top four defenders since joining the team.
6. After sort of an underwhelming start to the season, the Sharks have hit their stride in December. San Jose is 8-3-2 in December and they’re two points behind Calgary for the top spot in the Pacific Division and three points behind Winnipeg for first in the Western Conference. Only three times in their 13 games in December have the Sharks scored less than three goals in a game.
7. Scoring goals is very important for the Sharks right now because their goaltending has been terrible this season. Martin Jones, who is in the first year of a six-year deal worth $5.75 million annually, has a .899 save percentage in 28 games this season, well down from the .915 save percentage he had averaged in the three seasons since joining the Sharks. Aaron Dell, the team’s backup, hasn’t fared much better. Dell has a .904 save percentage in 12 games, down from the .914 save percentage he had last year.
8. It isn’t like the Sharks have been poor defensively, either. The Sharks are allowing the third-fewest shot attempts against per 60 minutes at even strength this season and they’re in the top third of the league in terms of stopping the other team from generating high-danger chances. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the team’s best shutdown defender, has had a disappointing season by his standards, but the team’s overall defensive numbers have been solid. It does seem like goaltending has let the Sharks down thus far.
9. As I said, the Sharks are relying on offence to win games. They have 128 goals so far, good for seventh in the league. The Sharks have done a good job at spreading around their best forwards to create three different lines that can score goals. Timo Meier, who’s enjoying a breakout season, plays with Logan Couture on the top line and the two have combined for 31 goals. The second line features two long-time Sharks in Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, who leads the team with 23 goals. On the third line, the Sharks have Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl, who have combined for 23 goals thus far. The Sharks also boast a power play that’s operating at a 23.28 percent efficiency, which ranks eighth in the league.
10. The Sharks and Oilers have met just once this season. It came back on Nov. 20 and it’ll be remembered as the beginning of the Hitchcock Era in Edmonton. The Oilers fought back from three different deficits before winning the game 4-3 in overtime. The Oilers and Sharks will meet up three more times after this. Once in a little over a week from now, once in early February, and then finally in April in their 81st game of the season.
11. We groaned at matinee games last year because the Oilers were so bad in them, but they’ve actually done well in them this season. I don’t count the season opener in Europe as a matinee game even though it was at 11 AM for us, so the Oilers are 3-1 in matinee games this year. They beat the Rangers in New York for their first win of the season, they beat Nashville and Chicago on the road, and they lost a Thanksgiving game in Anaheim.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/27/2018 – 7:00 am MT