Sharks-Oilers could be a budding, nasty rivalry

Sharks-Oilers could be a budding, nasty rivalry

EDMONTON – All of the ingredients are there.

Division rival? Check. Exciting young superstar to draw the ire of opposing fans? Check. Former head coach now behind the bench of the other team? Check. Some bubbling nastiness between the two sides? Check.

The Sharks and Oilers haven’t been in the same hockey stratosphere in quite some time. You probably have to go all the way back to 2006, when Edmonton knocked off the Sharks in the second round of the playoffs and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

But even that didn’t really lead to any ongoing feud between the two clubs, as the Oilers quickly nosedived. Now, they’re back, and unquestionably a team on the rise with Connor McDavid and Todd McLellan leading the way. The Sharks are at the top, defending their Western Conference championship this season and looking like they could challenge for another.

The Oilers will potentially be in the way.

“What you’ve got is a young team establishing themselves in the division, with L.A. and Anaheim and us,” Pete DeBoer said on Tuesday, before the most recent Sharks-Oilers game. “Typically, you’ve got big, heavy, hard teams. It looks like they’re going to be right there. I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”

The enmity between the two sides started last late season, when the Oilers’ Darnell Nurse wailed away on a defenseless Roman Polak on March 8, after Nurse thought Polak had tripped Matt Hendricks from behind (replays later showed he never touched Hendricks). The Sharks didn’t have time for any retribution before that one ended, but recalled Micheal Haley for a game two weeks later, essentially for the sole purpose of fighting Nurse.

He did, and drilled Nurse with a right hook just three minutes after the opening faceoff.

In the first meeting this season on Dec. 23, a 3-2 Sharks overtime win, there was some more maliciousness when Brenden Dillon fought Hendricks, and Haley and Zack Kassian went at it in the first period. Later, Kassian and Dillon got into it themselves. The most recent meeting in Edmonton on Tuesday didn’t feature any rough stuff, but it was competitive. The Oilers trailed 4-1 to start the third, and got back to within 4-3 before Logan Couture’s insurance goal sealed a 5-3 Sharks win.

The Oilers feature some new players that are familiar to the Sharks after years of skating on other teams. There’s no love lost between the Sharks and Milan Lucic, dating back to his run-in with Logan Couture in the first game of the 2015-16 season between the Sharks and Kings. Patrick Maroon spent five seasons in Anaheim as part of some emotional battles between those rival clubs, and Kassian is no stranger, either, spending four seasons in Vancouver. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt.

Despite all that, though, no one was ready from either side to use the R-word just yet.

“I think you kind of get the rivalries once you get in the playoffs, like we have against L.A.,” Joe Thornton said. “I wouldn’t call it a rivalry quite yet, but who knows, down a couple years with the playoffs – hopefully you’ll build a bigger rivalry.”

McDavid would also welcome a playoff series. When asked if he senses a growing rivalry, the 19-year-old said: “Could be, yeah. Hopefully we get a chance to play them a bunch, and maybe have a few playoff series against them. They’re in our division, so you’re going to play them a lot of times. 

“We’re hoping to become a team like them, where we’re as successful as them. They’re kind of the top dog, and we’re trying to take them off. Definitely, maybe a little a bit.”

From the Oilers’ perspective, calling them a rival of the Sharks would be a compliment. It’s more evidence that they’re back, and once again a dangerous team after so many years of futility.

‘That means we’re improving as a team, and we’re in the mix,” McLellan said. “You have to have that for a rivalry, you don’t get a non-playoff team and a consistent playoff team really creating that. If it’s evolving that way, that’s a good thing for our group.”

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.