The San Jose Sharks continue their six-game home stand Thursday, January 31 by hosting the Edmonton Oilers.
This is their first game against a previous opponent, something rare considering they are not in the same division. (As such a previous preview offers much of the personnel analysis.) Many Western Conference foes are only being played twice all season.
San Jose won the second game of the season in Edmonton, but then they are the only remaining unbeaten team in the NHL. They jumped out to leads of 2-0 and 6-1 in the first period and never looked back. Four of San Jose’s six victories have been decisive—by a minimum of two goals and without the empty net providing that margin as it did against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The last game against the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday was the first the Sharks were in real danger of losing. They were being dominated 19-5 in shots for the first half of the game and were still trailing 2-1 inside the final three minutes before Logan Couture had the big goal and Michal Handzus was able to close the stolen win for Antti Niemi in the shootout.
Part of the reason for their struggle was the health issues on the blue line. It looks like they may continue according to the San Jose Mercury News Wednesday, January 30.
Dan Boyle missed practice due to illness, and his readiness Thursday an unknown. Jason Demers has declared himself ready, but all Todd McLellan will say is “JD” is being evaluated each day and could get in at any time. Brent Burns is skating but not expected to be ready on this home stand that ends Saturday, February 2.
The need of the Sharks to play Nick Petrecki for his second straight game seem low given either of two players may be ready to be in the lineup Thursday. But chances are strong that Matt Irwin will remain active and a tough decision will have to be made about sitting him, Douglas Murray or maybe even Justin Braun should the coaches be ready to get a look at both JD and Boyle.
Having ice time on the line might make up for some of the lacking puck-moving. But if no one is healthy enough to insert into the lineup, Brad Stuart and Marc-Edouard Vlasic should be split up to ensure two pairs have a puck-mover.
Both goalies have been playing well, but Niemi will be the choice anytime there is no game before or after a given contest unless he is not healthy. Forward play continues to be exemplary on the top two lines. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been on the ice for 19 of 25 goals and the second line has gotten five others. Just over half those goals have come on or because of the best power play in the NHL.
The problem has been secondary scoring, but it is not really a problem until it is not there when it has to be. The first line will not score like this forever, but the as long as they are the supporting cast is not focused on that task because there is little need.
What they have been doing well is killing penalties. After a 9-for-14 start that included two five-on-three attacks of over a minute, the Sharks have killed 13 straight (though one goal was scored just after a kill) to reach 81.5 percent.
Edmonton has health issues of their own, most notably missing stay-at-home defensemen Andy Sutton and Theo Peckham. They lack a true ace on the blue line as well as having depth tested. Their penalty kill has been better than expected and their power play is almost as good as San Jose’s because of their great young forward talent.
Nevertheless, the Oilers have won four of six with defense, holding their other five opponents to nine total goals. They have scored just one more than they have yielded, whereas the Sharks are plus-15. The largest difference between the teams is at even strength, where the Sharks are 13-5 and the Oilers give up twice what they score.