Nothing is a safe bet for the Sharks right now, facing a perceived "definite win," on the road against the Edmonton Oilers. It's far too early to start pandering about their blown playoff chances, but it's not too early to second guess them until they string together some solid performances and show us they are who we thought they were. Then again, there wasn't really any hivemind perception of the Sharks coming into the 2010-2011 season, save for a unanimous question mark in regards to the defensive zone and free agent signee goalies Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi.
Neither of the units have done anything to assuage those question marks for the fans and analysts. The defensive zone continues to give up the puck and show incomprehensibly slow recovery to get back into position to lend assistance to either of the Sharks goaltenders. Antti Niemi has played less-than-stellar hockey of late. He hasn't been terrible, but he's a very bad style for the way the Sharks play defense. It's not so much that Antero Niittymaki is a better goalie or that Niemi is bad by any means, but Niittymaki provides some semblance of continuity from long-time Shark Evgeni Nabokov, who departed for the KHL this offseason.
Niittymaki controls the puck better and gets it in his glove or gets on top of it like his life depends on it, and that's absolutely crucial for a Sharks defense that hasn't had to adjust much over the years. He'll likely get the start tonight in net for the Sharks. Then again, you never really know.
The Oilers are on a three-game skid, while the Sharks have won two on the road and have never won their first three road games of the season. The Sharks took three of four from the Oilers last season, including a game that saw Patrick Marlaeu get himself a hat trick on November 27th.
Joe Pavelski is hot for the Sharks right now, scoring twice in the winning affair in Dever against the Avalanche. Both goals were on the power play, and both were calculated, measured scoring shots set up by Dany Heatley and Marlaeu. You can expect to see the Joe Thornton - Heatley - Marlaeu line back together again starting tonight. The lines were spread out at the beginning of the season but it hasn't worked out the way coach Todd McLellan intended with a lack of 5-on-5 scoring. Pavelski - Devin Setoguchi - Ryane Clowe will return on the second line. Marlaeu has points in each of his last four games.
Taylor Hall is still looking for his first goal with the Oilers. The eighteen year-old first-overall draft pick hasn't exactly been disappointing for Edmonton, and in fact is coming off a solid performance, but he wants to be on the scorecards. Nikolai Khabibulin is getting the start for the Oilers tonight, and is 17-9-2 with two ties and a 2.41 GAA in thirty-one starts against San Jose.