Programming note: Oilers-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live
SAN JOSE – The Oilers have just one win in their last 16 games, but the Sharks certainly have it fresh in their memory banks.
On Dec. 7, Edmonton ended an 11-game losing streak by beating the Sharks at Rexall Place, 2-1. Since then, the NHL’s worst team has lost another five in a row (0-4-1), starting with a 5-2 defeat to San Jose at SAP Center on Dec. 9.
“That one that they won just happened to be us, so the mindset isn’t that difficult. We know we have our work cut out for us,” Todd McLellan said after the morning skate on Thursday.
The Sharks should have plenty of energy for the game after enjoying a day off on Sunday followed by three straight practices. They’ll be shooting for their seventh win in a row at home, as well as a chance to move past idle Vancouver for second place in the Pacific Division.
The biggest benefit to not playing since Saturday is a chance to rest from what has been a hectic first 32 games of their schedule. At the same time, the layoff could lead to some early rust against the Oilers.
“It could go either way,” Justin Braun said. “Guys are rested and feeling good. Haven’t played a game in a few days, but however the schedule ends up, it ends up, and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
McLellan said: “For us, this four-day break is a long break. We haven’t had one of them in a long time. It would have been nice to keep the momentum rolling, but it stopped. … We should be a refreshed team. If anything, we should have some energy early in the game. Will our execution be good? We might have to wade into it a little bit, but as the night goes on we should get better.”
The coach will look to players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels to set the tone for what could be a challenging start as part of the leadership transition that is taking place.
“The catalysts have to make the team go,” said McLellan, who has been using that word on a frequent basis lately when referring to his younger leaders. “They have to get out and drive the team."
It would be nothing short of embarrassing if San Jose dropped another game to the lowly Edmonton club that recently made a coaching change. Marleau was reminded that the Sharks have struggled against some of the weaker teams in the NHL this season, including that loss to the Oilers less than two weeks ago.
“I don’t really think about it too much. It has happened, but I think guys need to realize the importance right here before Christmas break. Three big games and three big opportunities to get some points and move up in the standings,” said Marleau, referring to upcoming games against St. Louis and Anaheim, before another four-day break for Christmas.
Braun said: “Consistency is the biggest thing right now. If we can keep that going through the next thee games and past Christmas, it would be good.”
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Antti Niemi will be back between the pipes after his 29-save shutout against the Predators last Saturday. It will be his 300th career game.
In his last five starts, the goaltender is 5-0-0 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
The only other lineup change from Saturday appears to be John Scott drawing in on the fourth line in place of Tye McGinn. Matt Nieto tested out his bad ankle on Thursday morning, but it still not ready to return and will miss his sixth straight game.