The last time I wrote a game preview about the San Jose Sharks (10-10-1) was back on November 2, which coincidentally was also the last time the Sharks lost. Since then, San Jose has torn it up, riding a six-game win streak into tonight’s matchup against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (13-6-3).
I originally thought I shouldn't be allowed back on preview duty in case I’m bad luck, but since my FTF coworkers made the cautious decision to just quarantine me and my desk in a curse-proof bubble until further notice, we’re going to take that risk today anyway.
These two teams met only a week ago, when the Sharks hammered Edmonton 6-3 on home ice for their fourth straight victory. The win was a sort of statement game for Pete DeBoer’s group; they might be down, but they’re certainly not out. San Jose gave the young Pacific-leading Oilers a masterclass in not underestimating your opponent, no matter what their record says.
And if there’s one team that’ll understand that lesson, it’s Edmonton. After over a decade’s worth of dismal seasons (except that one year we don’t talk about around here), the Oilers finally look like they’re turning a corner. Under new general manager Ken Holland and bench boss Dave Tippett, Edmonton has jumped out to a record of 13-6-3, the fifth best in the NHL.
Connor McDavid has continued to be the same old Connor McDavid, but his running mate Leon Draisaitl has found a whole other level. The “German Wunder” currently leads the NHL in points with 43 and has the edge on McDavid in both goals (16) and assists (27) among Oilers players.
The biggest changes for the Oilers has been the contributions coming from the back end. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse have received some scoring help from 22-year-old Ethan Bear, whose eight points puts him third among Edmonton defenders and eighth on the team. And while injuries to Adam Larsson and Brandon Manning have hurt their depth, the play of Caleb Jones and Matt Benning have given Edmonton one less issue to worry about.
But the most stunning revelation has been the work of the Oilers’ goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Smith and Koskinen have split the netminding duties evenly, with both posting winning records and save percentages above .915. There’s a lot of past history that tells you their numbers are due to regress, but until that day comes, Edmonton has been making the most out of it.
While the Sharks are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, there’s no doubt the way they had to scrape out a 4-3 shootout win over the lowly Detroit Red Wings after blowing a 2-0 lead will have San Jose more on their toes tonight. The Sharks will need to remedy their tougher scoring night with another big offensive outing against the Oilers, so we should be in for a more run-and-gun effort from the forwards.
One thing lost in all the commotion around the Sharks’ overtime win against the Red Wings was this tiny detail regarding Timo Meier’s deployment.
Something I missed last game — Timo Meier got benched after the game-tying goal, which was probably his fault (along with Burns’), when you view the replay. No shifts in the final 4:14 or in OT.— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzNHL) November 18, 2019
I know this is a hot take, but one might argue that benching one of your best offensive talents at the most crucial part of the game because of one mistake doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. Sure it happened to work out in the Sharks’ favor this time around, but Pete DeBoer deciding to send a message at the cost of giving himself a worse chance to win could be a red flag to watch out for going forward.
While it’s doubtful that Meier will become DeBoer’s new Joonas Donskoi, he still got the hook despite turning 14:13 of ice time against the Red Wings (fifth lowest on the team) into a goal and an assist. Expect to see a fired up Timo looking to prove a point tonight, especially with a speedy young Oilers team in town.
You Can Only Hope To Contain Them
Not many teams have as powerful of an offensive one-two punch as Edmonton’s McDavid and Draisaitl, and keeping them off the scoresheet entirely is one of the toughest jobs in hockey. For the Sharks to have any success in that department, keeping their game disciplined and staying out of the penalty box is a great place to start.
The Oilers currently have the number one ranked power play in the NHL with a success rate of 31.82 percent, and it’s pretty obvious why. On the flip side, the Sharks have the league’s best penalty kill percentage with 90.91 percent, but when you’re facing two of the game’s most elite snipers that’s not a risk they’ll be willing to take.
The best thing for San Jose is to keep the shifts short and give their scoring lines as many matchup opportunities against some of Edmonton’s weaker links. The Oilers’ top two lines take over games by wearing out their slower competition, so giving the likes of Dylan Gambrell and Lukas Radil an opportunity to shine could make the difference against a team with less scoring depth.
Bold prediction: This sort of matchup between offensively-minded teams isn’t exactly goaltender friendly, so at least one netminder is probably getting shelled tonight. My guess is it’ll be whichever of Smith or Koskinen starts for the Oilers. 6-4, Sharks.