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OILERS vs. SHARKS - GET THE SCOOP
AT THE MORNING SKATE Edmonton, AB - It's not post-season hockey, but it's as close as the Oilers will get this year. That's how Head Coach Tom Renney, Sam Gagner and others look at their team's latest quest, as the 11th-place San Jose Sharks visit Rexall Place.
It'll be a similar matchup to Saturday's Northwest Division battle at the Pepsi Center, in which the home side escaped with a hard-fought, 3-2 win in a shootout. The victory pulled the Avalanche into a three-way tie for eighth, putting the Sharks behind them all, two points back with 15 games to play.
"It better be," Renney deadpanned, describing his team's get-up-and-go attitude in challenging a desperate team. "It doesn't matter what the other team's circumstances are, to be honest with you. Our circumstance is what it is and we need to show what we want to be moving forward. [San Jose is] a team that's respected in this league; we really do need to come out and play hard here. Yes, they're a desperate team and that's good for us, because we need to face that.
"What I do talk about under these circumstances is the need to be an active participant -- to play every game for the purpose that it should be, and that's two points and building legitimacy as a team."
Sam Gagner, who's amassed two goals and three assists in the Oilers' last 10 games as they've gone 4-5-1, agreed with his coach's sentiments.
"They've got a lot of desperation right now," he said, noting the Sharks' listless 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games. "They're a really good team over there, so we've got to respect that. That'll bring out the best in us, playing against teams like this. It's as close as we're going to get to playoff hockey this year, so we've got to focus on coming in here and stealing two points from them. If we can do that and put a damper in their playoff hopes, it's going to be a good feeling for us."
While the Oilers' season has been a disappointing one, standings-wise, making up ground on anyone is nearly impossible. But, a .500 end to the 2011-12 campaign would ensure the orange and blue's improvement from season's past – 11 points on the past two seasons' 62-point conclusions.
It makes sense, then, to hand the reigns to a man with similar aspirations. Devan Dubnyk, who's collected eight wins in his last 15 starts and has notched a 14-16-1 record all season long.
The 25-year-old was likely to start on Saturday in Denver, but it was revealed last minute that Nikolai Khabibulin would get the call due to a minor groin pull to the club's sophomore netminder.
In speaking with Dubnyk at the morning skate, it was revealed that the injury had been sustained during Thursday's practice, prior to the Oilers' encounter with the Montreal Canadiens at Rexall Place.
"In talking to Devan and (Head Athletic Therapist) T.D. (Forss), if we needed him he could have gone in to play, but you just don't take chances with goalies and groins. It's that simple, so I was concerned," Renney explained.
16-9-4. That's how dominant the Oilers once were at Rexall Place; but the mighty have fallen, posting a 1-6-1 record in their past eight, since winning games over the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in early February.
With 14 games to play and seven on the schedule at Rexall, the Oilers know that success at the corner of 118th ave and Wayne Gretzky Drive is essential to end the 2011-12 season strong.
"The desire to do well here is there, but the inability to do it properly has sort of seeped in," Renney said. "Sometimes we overcomplicate things when we just need to go out and play. For us anyway, it's about energy, it's about the passion to play, it's about pushing our M.O. to our opponent instead of sitting back and seeing what they might do. We need to go after them, and when we play like that we're okay."
Of Gagner's 42 points this season, 22 have come in 29 games at home (eight were recorded in one night, mind you). He, too, believes it's about pushing their own agenda on their opponent. Keeping things simple is Job 1 as the Oilers look to improve on a 2-1-0 season-series lead.
"I don't know," he laughed. "We can't really worry too much about whether we're at home or on the road; but we do want to feed off the crowd here and try not to do too much.
"We've got to develop some good chemistry throughout our lines so that we don't have those (period-by-period) lapses. We've made some costly mistakes at home and on the road that have really come back to bite us in the end. If we can play a solid 60 minutes and limit our mistakes, we should be okay.
"We've got to play solid both ways," he added about what's needed to counter the Sharks' attack. "If we're turning pucks over and giving up things behind us, they're going to make us pay."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW Last 10: San Jose 2-6-2; Edmonton 4-5-1.
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season. Although San Jose is 10-2-0 in the previous 12 meetings, Edmonton holds a 2-1 edge in the season series, with both wins coming in shootouts. The Oilers prevailed this past Tuesday by a score of 3-2 on Sam Gagner's shootout tally.
Big Story: San Jose -- a team hemorrhaging points as it continues a slide down the Western Conference -- will look to win for the first time in March. Edmonton has been little better, with its only win in six games coming in the shootout win against the Sharks. Despite their struggles, the Sharks are just a point out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
Sharks: It's been a tough stretch for the San Jose, much of it due to its anemic offense. The Sharks have scored three goals or fewer in 12 straight games, an ineptitude that has left them 2-8-3 since Feb. 16. And since beating Philadelphia, 1-0, on Feb. 28, the Sharks have lost five in a row -- including two shutouts. The second of those came in Saturday's 3-0 defeat at the hands of Phoenix. The Sharks mustered 42 shots, but Mike Smith stood tall against them all. The struggle is not lost on those in the locker room.
"It seems to be a similar pattern here," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We had several grade-A chances, but didn't put the puck away."
Oilers: Since winning three of four late in February and looking very much like a team on the rise, Edmonton has dropped five of six. In a 3-2 shootout loss to Colorado on Saturday, the Oilers came close to snapping the streak when Taylor Hall erased a 2-1 lead with a goal 15:17 into the third period. Edmonton had the better of chances in the final minutes and overtime, but Milan Hejduk and Peter Mueller buried Edmonton in the shootout.
"It was good to at least salvage a point," Hall said. "You can definitely tell these teams are in a playoff race. They know their life depends on every point that they get. When we play these teams, we have to be extra motivated."
Who's Hot: While Devan Dubnyk has struggled recently, he is 3-0-0 with a 1.58 goals-against average in three careers meetings with the Sharks. He saved 28 shots in last Tuesday's game, but coach Tom Renney has preferred Nikolai Khabibulin in the last two games.
Injury Report: Edmonton's Ben Eager is questionable for Monday's game with flu-like symptoms. … In San Jose, Martin Havlat will miss 6-8 weeks with a hamstring injury.
Stat Pack: On top of their full-strength attacking slump, San Jose has squandered all 13 power-play chances during its March skid. If Khabibulin gets the start again, that could come to an end Monday. He is 3-2 with a 3.33 GAA in six games since Feb. 15.
Puck Drop: After Saturday's loss, captain Shawn Horcoff insisted his team would salvage what they could from the season.
"We're a proud team and we want to finish strong," Horcoff said. "Listen, you have to find motivation this time of year when you're in the situation we are (in). You have to find ways to motivate yourself and the team, otherwise it can get pretty ugly, pretty quick. We've been through that before and we're not going to let it happen again."
-- Davis Harper, NHL.com