It took overtime for the Sharks to beat the Oilers in their first and only meeting of the season back on Dec. 23 and it may remain a tough ask for San Jose tonight if Marc-Edouard Vlasic doesn’t return to the lineup.
Vlasic played against the Oilers in the teams’ previous meeting, though his fellow injured defender David Schlemko did not, and has been out of the lineup since taking a puck to the face against Philadelphia on Dec. 30. Vlasic made the trip to Edmonton with the Sharks while Schlemko did not. He’s a game-time decision for San Jose.
When San Jose beat the Oilers back two days before Christmas it put the Sharks at 21-12-1 (43 points) and Edmonton at 18-12-6 (42 points). Now San Jose sits near the top of the standings with 50 points while Edmonton is also in the mix with 49 points. The Sharks have gone 3-2-1 since their last meeting with the Oilers while Edmonton has gone a nearly identical 3-1-1.
The Sharks are tied for first place with Anaheim (50 points) and the Oilers and Sharks are the only teams with a positive goal differential. San Jose has a +15 and the OIlers have a +7 mark while the Ducks are at dead even. The Flames (-5), Kings (-3), Canucks (-16) and Coyotes (-42) are all in the red.
Last time these team’s met I wrote a bit about Patrick Maroon’s standout season, but this team I wanted to note how well the Oilers as a unit are playing. The Sharks are fifth in the NHL in 5v5 score-adjusted fenwick (a minor miracle given the injuries to Tomas Hertl, Vlasic and Schlemko) but Edmonton is up to seventh in the league. I don’t agree with all the moves the Oilers made this offseason, but this is (finally) a good hockey team. It’s about damn time.
It’s hard to figure out exactly what the best lines are for Edmonton because Todd McLellan likes to blend lines in Alberta just as much as he did in San Jose. Maroon has spend time with Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Leon Draisaitl — sometimes with two of the aforementioned three. And Edmonton can’t resist sending Milan Lucic out on the top line with McDavid, despite his skillset being better suited to a third-line role.
That gives San Jose an advantage, of course. McDavid took the Sharks’ lunch money in their last meeting by embarrassing Joe Thornton and company with his speed, but keeping a hit-first player like Lucic out there helps mitigate the damage. That might change with Timo Meier on the ice, but McDavid is going to be the best player in the NHL before his career is over, so expect the Sharks to take the L while he’s on the ice.
This should be a fun game, but it’ll be a hell of a lot more fun if Vlasic returns in time to play. Oh, and if you’re interested in such things you can hear me on Edmonton radio at 9:40 a.m. PT with Lowetide. That should be fun for somebody.