EDMONTON – When Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli took over the flailing organization on April 24, 2015, he decided it would have to get bigger and tougher to compete in the Pacific Division.
Since then, Chiarelli added players like Zack Kassian via a trade with Montreal, Patrick Maroon in a deal with Anaheim, Milan Lucic this past offseason via free agency, and Adam Larsson in a trade with the Devils.
Presumably, the aim was to add some protection around superstar Connor McDavid, but also become a more physical team that can withstand the rigors of a division that features some heavy teams.
Through the first two games of their series with the Sharks they’re doing just fine in that regard. Actually, they’re doing more than that – they are pushing the Sharks around, and doing it much too easily.
Kassian in particular was a force in Game 2, as the Oilers outhit the Sharks 41-21. He was credited with six hits, including what some might describe as borderline checks on Brenden Dillon and Logan Couture.
The Sharks had no answer for him, and he’ll surely continue to be a pest throughout the series if he’s permitted to.
(For those wondering, Kassian won’t be receiving any supplemental discipline from the league for the hits on Dillon or Couture, a source has confirmed to NBC Sports California. And on another note, if you’re someone who gets turned off by aggressive players walking the line in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I’m pretty sure Disney on Ice returns next winter).
From the Sharks’ perspective, none of the players that spoke after Game 2 seemed overly concerned with the Oilers’ physical play, including Brent Burns, who simply referred to it as “big boy hockey.” After all, Maroon has taken several foolish penalties, and the Sharks have already had 12 power plays in the series. Had they put in one or two more with a man advantage, other than just Joel Ward’s score in Game 1, they might be leaving Edmonton with a 2-0 series lead.
Instead, the power play has been atrocious in a continuation from most of the regular season.
“We have to make them pay for taking liberties, and we didn’t tonight,” said Pete DeBoer, who indicated he had no problems with the officiating in Game 2. “That’s got to get fixed going forward.”
Joe Pavelski said: “I don’t think anyone has changed their game from [the Oilers’ physicality]. … I think you weather the storms, especially with teams like them – a lot of [them playing for the] first time in the playoffs. If it’s your first time or you’ve been here before, you come out with some energy, especially at home.
“Guys have done a good job. They’ve hung in there, made plays, took some hits. Besides our execution on the power play, we’ve done a lot of good things to draw some penalties.”
The Sharks, of course, are the more veteran team in the series. They’re not likely to get rattled or thrown off of their game just because of a few extra hits, and that was the overall theme they expressed after the 2-0 loss on Friday. The Oilers can keep running around as much as they want if they’re going to end up in the penalty box.
But those hits add up in a seven-game series, and the Sharks likely can’t keep taking the kind of punishment being dished out by the Oilers. They can’t count on getting half a dozen power plays a game, either.
The Sharks are built a little bit differently, too, than last season when they pounded their way through series wins against the heavy Kings and Blues. Gone are big hitters Roman Polak and Tommy Wingels, both of whom had no problems getting chippy when it was necessary. Timo Meier has brought an added physical element to his game, but he’s still just a rookie, and nearly broke his back in Game 2 when he completely missed on one attempted check in front of the Sharks’ bench.
Micheal Haley, meanwhile, hasn’t played yet in the series and you have to think DeBoer is considering him for Game 3. Haley already dropped the gloves with Kassian once in a Sharks-Oilers matchup on Dec. 23, so making an early statement in San Jose’s first home game might help settle things down a bit.
Regardless, the Sharks are going to have to play a harder, meaner game against a hungry team that seems determined to prove they are more than just McDavid and are just as big and bad as anyone else in the NHL. That's what Chiarelli wanted when he was building his roster, and so far, that's what he's getting.