SAN JOSE – The Sharks are probably a little tired of hearing how they play better against top opponents, but struggle against the NHL’s bottom-dwellers.
A win tonight over the Oilers would put a dent in that narrative. After impressive wins over the Kings, Ducks and Blackhawks, all of whom are considered Stanley Cup contenders, the Sharks will attempt to cap their homestand with a victory against the worst team in the Western Conference.
The Sharks have won two of three against the Oilers, including the most recent matchup on Dec. 18 in San Jose, 4-3.
Edmonton has won three of its last five, but remains seven points behind the next-closest team in the standings, Arizona.
“I look at their team, I think they've improved,” said Todd McLellan. “I think their belief system has gone up. They're better defensively, the goaltending's been a little bit stronger, and they're a bigger, stronger team now than the last time we played against them. So, all of those factors make them more of a challenge for us than they were last time in."
San Jose is 5-1-1 in its last seven games, and 4-1-1 on its current homestand. The top team on home ice in the Western Conference last season (and tied for the best home mark in 2013), the Sharks haven’t had as much success in their own building as they’re used to. They are 14-8-3 here overall.
A fourth straight win to cap off their longest homestand of the season would be a step in the right direction in that regard. The Sharks have 32 games left, half of which are at home.
“Three wins does a little bit but doesn’t do a lot,” Logan Couture said. “We’ve got this game and we go on the road, so we know how important this game is for us. If we can win tonight, I think we’ll be satisfied with the way we’ve played at home on this homestand.”
Joe Pavelski said: “Playing at home we get a little extra energy going, and we’ve been finding a few timely goals, too.”
The Sharks will make one lineup change for the game, as forward Tyler Kennedy will return after recovering from a back injury that caused him to miss the previous two games. Kennedy will slot in on the fourth line in place of Tye McGinn, who is out with an upper body injury and has been generally ineffective this season.
“He looked good in our last two skates, and this morning he was pretty chipper and felt good,” McLellan said of the 28-year-old, who has seven points (3g, 4a) in 18 games.
In net, Antti Niemi will get the call after playing his best game of the season on Saturday, when he made 31 saves in shutting out the Blackhawks. In 12 career games against the Oilers, he is 10-1-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .904 save percentage.