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Oilers v. Sharks - 2 John 1-6

The Mullet to the new captain chosen by God and his children, whom I love to watch pull on the Oildrop - and not just me, but all who in their heart of hearts bleed copper and blue - because of the truth that lives in both me and you, and will unite us forever. May grace, mercy, and peace be given to you tonight by God our Father and our Redeemer in times of trouble.

It gives me great joy to see the new children walking in the truth and being rewarded by God for their efforts with late goals and victories! And now, my "Russian" friend, help me by doing what we have done for one another all along: let us love one another. And this is love, that we help one another in the standings; this is the oath that we swore to one another when I first left you, and so I write to you now with the (Oil) Kings in the midst of a few struggles, asking you to work over our Pacific foes so as to push them down the standings.

San Jose Sharks (10-7-4) @ Edmonton Oilers (6-11-4)

Rexall Place, 8:00 p.m. MST
Television: CBC

More analysis after the jump...

Visiting Team Scouting Report:

The Sharks have been one of the more dominant territorial teams in the league so far this season. Their shot differential is +7.2 per game, well clear of the Red Wings who are in second place at +4.8 per game (although the Wings have played a lot more with the lead). Most of their top nine is consistently in the black at EV, and the sometimes trio of Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture has been particularly dominant. Unfortunately for the Sharks, it hasn't been enough to maintain the dominant pace they set last year, and at the start of the day, the Sharks were only 11th in the official NHL standings.

Now, that standing of 11th is pretty deceiving for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Sharks have played fewer games than some of the teams ahead of them, and are actually in a tie for 8th in terms of points percentage. Secondly, the Western Conference is currently on pace to have ten teams finish with at least 93 points, and while that's possible, it seems likely that at least one or two teams will fall back and that the Sharks projected finish of 94 points would be good enough for the second season. But still, 94 points? That's a big step back from last season, so what exactly is going wrong?

The answer is mostly goaltending. Last season the Sharks got consistently top-notch goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov (who's having a terrible season in Russia) and Thomas Greiss (who's having a terrible season in Sweden). The two combined for an overall save percentage of .920. This season, the Sharks have gotten good netminding from Antero Niittymaki, but Antti Niemi has been horrible, and the two have combined to give the Sharks an overall save percentage of .901. Based on the 596 shots the Sharks have faced so far this season, that's a difference of over eleven goals, or almost two wins through the first quarter of the season. Projected over a full season, the difference would be just under forty-six goals, or about seven and a half wins (or fifteen standings points). That's almost the whole difference right there.

Expected Lineups:

Edmonton Oilers (6-11-4):

Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Penner - Cogliano - Brule
Jones - Gagner - Paajarvi

Jacques - Fraser - Stortini

Whitney - Gilbert

Smid - Foster
Peckham - Vandermeer


San Jose Sharks (10-7-4)

Marleau - Thornton - Heatley
Clowe - Couture - Pavelski
McGinn - Mitchell - Setoguchi
Mayers - Nichol - McCarthy

Boyle - Murray
Vlasic - Joslin
Huskins - Wallin


By the Numbers:

  • Since coming to the Oilers for Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Whitney has been very good. With Tom Gilbert's rough start to the season, he's clearly made himself the number one defenseman, and he's delivered at a level that has surpassed my expectations. While he's not consistently taking on the toughs, he certainly hasn't been sheltered, and he's delivered at both ends of the ice. Through forty games as an Oiler, Whitney's registered three goals and twenty-five assists for a total of twenty-eight points, and has also posted a +/- rating of +8 on a team with a -40 goal differential over those same forty games.
  • But let's not be too hard on Tom Gilbert. I'm not about to say that he's been good in the first quarter of the season, but because of his finesse style, he's always going to be a lightning rod when he can't buy a save from his goaltenders. So far this season Gilbert is one of two Oilers in the bottom twent in the NHL in On-ice EV Sv%, getting there with a truly deplorable .863. The other guy who's battled some hard luck (and who really can't afford it) is Jason Strudwick with an .848. Now, I'm sure that paring's poor play has contributed to the poor save percentage to some degree, but at the NHL level, skaters generally don't have much impact on the save percentage behind them over the long haul.
  • The Sharks lead the NHL in shots per game with 35.6, while the Oilers allow more shots than any other team in the NHL with, once again, 35.6 shots against per game. I'm pretty confident that number is going to be higher on both sides once this contest is over.
  • Only two players have been among the top fifteen scorers in each of the last five seasons: Joe Thornton and Alexander Ovechkin. So far this season, Thornton hasn't been quite as dominant, barely clinging to a spot in the top thirty. As an Oiler fan, I'm pretty envious that there's a player on that team for whom a point per game season is disappointing.
  • In the month of October, Magnus Paajarvi registered 24 shots in 9 games, or 2.56 per game, a very good rate, especially for a rookie who's not getting much time on the power play. In November, however, Paajarvi has registered only 15 shots in 11 games for a much less promising rate of only 1.36 shots per game. Some of that change is no doubt a lack of ice time in the second month of the season, but as Derek showed earlier today, the kid has been drowning, so it's not like a cut in his ice time comes as a surprise. Tom Renney has said that the team hasn't considered sending Paajarvi to the AHL to work on his game, but... well... they probably should.