Connor McDavid

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

NHL free-agency review: How Edmonton Oilers stack up in Pacific Division

NHL free-agency review: How Edmonton Oilers stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the Edmonton Oilers.

It was only a couple of postseasons ago when the Oilers booted the Sharks from the Stanley Cup playoffs. But boy, have they spiraled out of control since then.

Despite having one of the best hockey players in the world on their team, the Oilers have developed a reputation for being inconsistent and sometimes looking like they really don't give a darn. The drama got turned up an extra notch this past season with the firing of coach Todd McLellan in November and of general manager Peter Chiarelli in February.

Now Edmonton is set with a new bench boss and GM and is making moves in free agency to improve its roster. But is it enough to completely rebound from a disappointing 2018-19 campaign?

Here's a look at what the Oilers have done since the free-agent market opened. 

Players who signed

New GM Ken Holland has gone to work trying to provide the Oilers with offensive depth in free agency, re-signing forwards Alex Chiasson and Jujhar Khaira and adding Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, and Gaetan Haas. 

But the most interesting signing thus far has been that of goaltender Mike Smith, previously with the Calgary Flames. Smith is coming off an inconsistent season where he lost out on the starting job to David Rittich, but was good down the stretch -- although the Flames were booted pretty quickly from the playoffs.

This addition could go one of two ways. Smith could have a bounceback season playing for David Tippett -- who has been his coach twice before -- or lose out on the starting job yet again, this time to Mikko Koskinen. 

Whichever goalie wins the job is going to have a challenging time with the lack of quality defense being played in front of them. Speaking of ...

Players who left

Edmonton started clearing room before the market opened by buying out the rest of Andrej Sekera's contract. Even though Sekera's career has been on the decline since he sustained an ACL injury a couple of seasons ago, it leaves a void on the Oilers' blue line.

Not ideal if your team is going up against an offense like the Sharks' multiple times a season.

[RELATED: Sharks re-sign RFAs Gambrell and Suomela to contracts]

It's believed Holland is going to make a big trade at some point this summer ahead of training camp to beef up the blue line. Until that happens, though, Edmonton's defense isn't looking too sturdy.

Better, worse, or the same?

As of right now, the Oilers don't appear to have made any big changes that could completely turn their fortunes around and still have pieces they need to add before next season starts.

They may have a new coach and general manager in place, but they'll need to do more than that if they want to be more competitive next season.

Sharks vs. Oilers watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

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USATSI

Sharks vs. Oilers watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

The San Jose Sharks have just two regular season games left to get their game in shape for the playoffs. They’ll play one of those on Thursday as they take on Connor McDavid and the Oilers in Edmonton.

Team Teal is coming off a very disappointing 4-2 loss to the non-playoff bound Vancouver Canucks. San Jose had a 2-1 lead going into the third frame of Tuesday’s contest but let the Canucks stick around, which resulted in three unanswered goals. “We had chances to break it open 3-1 and we didn’t do that,” Joe Pavelski told the media afterward, saying the team was on the “wrong end, again.”

The captain scored a power-play goal in Tuesday’s game, which was his first contest after missing seven due to a lower-body injury. Melker Karlsson, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, will pencil back into the lineup on Thursday. Erik Karlsson, who has started practicing with the team again after being sidelined on February 26.

This is the final time the Sharks and Oilers will play each other this season. In 125 total matchups between the franchises, San Jose holds a 61-49-9-6 record against Edmonton.

Sharks projected lines and starters:

Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Evander Kane – Tomas Hertl – Gustav Nyquist
Marcus Sorensen – Joe Thornton – Kevin Labanc
Micheal Haley – Barclay Goodrow – Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Tim Heed
Jacob Middleton – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun

Aaron Dell – projected starter
Martin Jones

Oilers projected lines and pairs:

Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Ty Rattie
Tobias Rieder – Colby Cave – Alex Chiasson
Joseph Gambardella – Sam Gagner – Josh Currie

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse – Kris Russell
Andrej Sekera – Matt Benning

Anthony Stolarz – projected starter
Mikko Koskinen