SAN JOSE -- Half a day before puck drop, the Sharks found out they’d be facing off against a different coach.
The Edmonton Oilers fired ex-Sharks coach Todd McLellan about 11 hours before Tuesday night’s matchup at SAP Center. Ken Hitchcock, who has coached more games (1536) than all but four coaches in NHL history, was named his replacement.
But the change behind the opposing bench doesn’t mean the Sharks are throwing their gameplan out the window.
“It doesn’t change,” DeBoer said of his team’s preparation. “I think for us the message is we're not gonna change because of the coaching change, other than we have to be aware that their desperation level is going to be ramped up. You know that happens in these situations, and we've gotta make sure that's one thing we're aware of."
The Sharks are familiar with Hitchcock, who coached the Dallas Stars last season and the St. Louis Blues against San Jose in the 2016 Western Conference Final. His Stars were 2-1-0 against the Sharks last year, and controlled 54.33 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts and 57.69 percent of the high-danger scoring chances in those games, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Yet it’s not clear what, if any, changes Hitchcock will make Tuesday night. Even if the Oilers' structure changes, the Sharks’ focus is clear: Stop superstar Connor McDavid.
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McDavid’s 28 points were tied for third in the league entering Tuesday. The Oilers center scored or assisted on just under 50 percent of the Oilers’ goals in their first 20 games. During that time, Edmonton attempted nearly nine more shots per hour with McDavid on the ice five-on-five than when he wasn’t, and scored 1.56 additional goals every 60 minutes he played.
The latter difference was more than any other Oiler.
“We know we have to be ready for defense,” forward Tomas Hertl said, “but we want to score against these guys because if you score against [a line like McDavid’s] they get frustrated because everybody expects them to score. But if we can shut them down, and score against them, that's really good."
Hertl will return to the lineup after missing San Jose’s last two games, and figures to play a lot against McDavid. He played more five-on-five minutes against the former No. 1 overall pick last season than any other Sharks forward, while linemate Logan Couture was second.
With Hertl matched up against McDavid last season, the Sharks out-attempted the Oilers 35-29, and out-chanced them 20-15. McDavid doesn’t necessarily need to control play to be dangerous, but the Sharks know limiting his opportunities is paramount.
“Most dynamic player in the league,” DeBoer said of McDavid. “I think [their offense] starts there for sure with him. They're obviously more than that, but he's the one guy that we spend more time when you're talking about prepping for teams.
“We don't spend a ton of time on individuals, but this is one guy that you do have to spend time on. He's that good."