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Edmonton Oilers give break to tired San Jose Sharks

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San Jose Sharks game

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No team has played more games in the 2013-14 NHL season than the San Jose Sharks. The pictured stars of the game enabled them to go deep into their bench when visiting the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday, March 25.

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The Sharks were coming off an overtime road loss the night before. They were without probably their best player in Logan Couture, lost Adam Burish to a nasty finger injury during the game and had one veteran doing back-to-back games in his first action in over six weeks.

Looking ahead, they are back in San Jose for a Thursday game and right back to Denver for a Saturday matinee. Thus, Pacific Division-rival Edmonton was hospitable to give this game away early.

The Sharks should have the legs for the next game, when they can ensure they have enough gas to play the speedy Colorado Avalanche. Burish was the only player that did not get over 11 minutes ice time, and only Jason Demers (21:55) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (20:55) had even 20.

As the 2013-14 NHL season winds down, it is not just every point that matters but every shift. Getting that insurance goal or stopping that early score can allow the players with the heaviest minutes to rest so they can endure a deep Stanley Cup run.

Joe Pavelski is normally one of those players, but was a large reason why he played under 18 minutes. Not because of poor play, but because he led San Jose with his third career hat trick—and third on the 2013-14 NHL season—to give McLellan a chance to rest him.

They got an early one on that entry. We know they're a dangerous team. On back-to-back nights, your special teams have to be good and they were.

As he eluded to in that post-game interview, the game did not start out so great for the Sharks. The Oilers had four of the first five shot attempts and scored on a well-executed breakout from Jeff Petry to Taylor Hall, who fed David Perron in the zone with room to roam.

Antti Niemi could not stop the shot from the slot, and the 4:11 goal provided information to coach Todd McLellan: "I thought we were a little bit rusty to start, trying to find our legs early." He also talked about knowing the hosts would come out with fire after an embarrassing home loss to the provincial rival Calgary Flames that officially ended any chance of Edmonton making the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and practically ended any chance of finishing out of the Pacific Division cellar.

The rest of the first period was more San Jose's kind of game, but no appreciable advantage could be held on the ice and nothing was gained on the scoreboard until after intermission. About six minutes later, that all changed when Ryan Smyth went off for holding.

The poor production of the power play was put in the past when Joe Thornton fed Patrick Marleau in the slot, leaving Pavelski alone to put the rebound into the open cage and end his seven-game goal-scoring drought. He was not done, nor was the power play.

Despite lacking Logan Couture, that first unit was unstoppable—literally. Not literally like most people say for emphasis on a figurative term, but literally literally, as in three chances and three scores.

Andrew Ference took another Edmonton penalty two minutes after that goal, and this time it took the power play 89 seconds to score. Almost all of them were spent on San Jose's attack with fierce battles in front of the net, good puck retrievals and keep-ins that resulted in six attempts but just one on goal over 68 seconds before Pavelski sprawled to sweep the puck to Marleau in the high slot for the one-timer goal before Ben Scrivens could set.

The Oilers pushed back after that goal, having all six shots and 13 of 15 attempts over the next six minutes. The Sharks survived that by using their bodies—four hits and four blocks—until they got an opportunity: Jason Demers got the puck to Marty Havlat in the final minute, who skated into the zone and released a wicked wrist-shot goal that ended up being the game-winning score over the pad of Scrivens.

Taylor Hall took Edmonton's last penalty on the first shift of the third period. San Jose had been able to execute a line change and Matt Nieto's fresh legs drew the hold. This time it took 46 seconds to score: Brent Burns kept the puck in and found Dan Boyle along the half-boards. The veteran faked slapping it in and fed Pavelski in front of the net, who spun and whipped it past Scrivens just 1:17 into the third.

With only one more shot in the next 11 minutes, it may have seemed like San Jose coasted. However, part of this was a result of playing checking lines and part of it was a result of focusing on defending and getting pucks deep.

Even so, the Sharks got the next score with seven minutes left. Brad Stuart got the puck down low for Thornton who fed Pavelski in the slot for the one-timer, hat trick goal. Under two minutes later, Jordan Eberle fed Ference for a slap-shot rebounding to Hall to backhand in and end the scoring with 5:04 left.

For the game, Edmonton compensated for losing five additional faceoffs with three fewer giveaways and four more takeaways. San Jose made up for that with eight extra hits, generating three more attempts and getting four more shots on goal thanks to blocking five more—almost 10 percent more of the attempts faced and half-again the ratio of shots blocked to allowed as the hosts.

That is the kind of all-around performance that the Sharks will need in the Stanley Cup playoffs, only against much better competition. The win puts them one percentage point behind but half a game up on the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division (four points more but with three more games played...how bad is the scheduling when one team has eight games left while a rival still has 11?).

While San Jose remains two games behind the St. Louis Blues for the top spot in the 2013-14 NHL season standings, winning the Pacific Division would assure home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. More importantly, it would allow the team to avoid having to beat and be beat up by both the Ducks and Los Angeles Kings to make the Western Conference final.

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