The Edmonton Oilers faced the San Jose Sharks at Rexall Place on March 20th. While their two previous match-ups against the Sharks were losses for the Oilers, their trajectories were different going into this game – the Oilers were coming off a few wins, whereas the Sharks have been going downwards.
In their January 31 game against the Sharks, the Oilers had a terrible first period where San Jose managed to score six goals within the first period alone. The Oilers really needed to start strong if they wanted to win this crucial game that would allow them to move up to 8th place in the Western conference.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was out this game due to illness (flu), putting Jordan Eberle on a line with Smyth and Jones, as Krueger evidently wanted to keep the Horcoff-Hemsky-Hall line, which has been doing well in previous games, intact. Nugent-Hopkins’ absence definitely affected the game, and thankfully Krueger stated that Nugent-Hopkins would be playing on Saturday in the game against St. Louis.
The first period started out a bit slow, with the initial few minutes scoreless and the Sharks killing a power-play early in the period. There was plenty of hitting and they managed to establish a good pace. Sam Gagner got a power-play goal about halfway into the period, making it 5 goals in 5 games for the young Gagner. Being able to get the first goal of the game was crucial for the Oilers – they had some good momentum in the minutes following Gagner’s goal, with a beautiful play by Hemsky down the side that was saved by Niemi. The Sharks tied it up with 5 minutes to go in the period; Edmonton unfortunately let the Sharks hammer away at goalie Devan Dubnyk until finally Logan Couture managed to slide one underneath him.
The second period started with the remaining few seconds of four on four carried over from the first period. Fistric went down in a bad collision near center, but re-entered the game again shortly after. San Jose’s Martin Havlat garnered a series of penalties, for a total of 14 penalty minutes for interference, unsportsmanlike conduct, and misconduct against Taylor Hall.
The Oilers managed to get a few good shots and Yakupov in particular had a great play, but they weren’t using the speed that they should have been and San Jose once again managed to kill the power-play. However, Shawn Horcoff stepped up once again and broke the tie, getting a goal for Edmonton around the 12 minute mark.
Entering the third period with a one-goal lead seemed promising for Edmonton. Ryan Jones increased the Oilers’ lead to 3-1 with a goal – his first of the year – at 4:07. As has happened to the Oilers before, however, San Jose managed to rally and they got two consecutive goals, at 6:30 by Couture again, and at about 9 minutes by Wingels.
The game went into overtime, which despite two shots by the Oilers, ended 3-3.
San Jose and Edmonton then went into a shootout with Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky shooting for the Oilers, and Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle shooting for the Sharks. While Eberle managed to get a goal, the Sharks bested the Oilers with goals by both Couture and Boyle to finish the game 4-3 for San Jose.
The Oilers really seem to struggle lately with holding onto the lead. Gagner and Horcoff both commented in post-game interviews on the Oilers’ recurring difficulties with this issue. Gagner said that “we had our chances to wrap that game up, which is a positive. But we’re upset that we squandered that lead”; Horcoff commented on the Sharks’ third period comeback, interviewing that “we’re still trying to get better in those situations and lock those games down.”
The frustrating thing is that the Oilers are sort of on a strange middle ground lately. They’re no longer getting shut out and really struggling like they did in their losing streak on the road. They’re playing well – often very well – and building leads, but sometimes they just don’t seem to be able to finish the deal.
They’ll face the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, March 23.