SAN JOSE – After jumping out to an early 2-0 lead against Vancouver without their top two centers, the Sharks proceeded to play the final 59 minutes of their game on Tuesday looking like they wanted to do as little as possible to preserve the lead.
They got away with it, winning 3-1, because, well, Vancouver. They almost certainly won't against Edmonton.
In fact, it sounds like the Oilers will be a pretty fired up squad after they dropped a 6-4 decision in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, putting a serious dent in their hopes of winning the Pacific Division. They and the Sharks are tied with 97 points apiece for second place, four behind Anaheim, with the Oilers holding a game in hand on both California rivals.
When it was suggested to forward Patrick Maroon that Thursday's game with the Sharks might be the organization's biggest regular season game in many years, Maroon told the Edmonton Sun: "It really is, this is going to dictate home ice advantage. That was our goal going into the playoffs, to get home ice advantage, so for us this is one of the biggest games we'll play."
Maroon and his linemates, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, were dominant against the Sharks just one week ago at Rogers Place in a 3-2 Edmonton win. Maroon had two goals, one set up by McDavid on a two-on-one, while the Oilers' superstar center had a highlight reel shorthanded score later on.
They were off against the Kings, though, including McDavid taking a minus-three rating, so figure the line will be motivated against the Sharks to make up for that performance.
"[Tuesday] night was one of those things where you throw the game tape out and forget about it. Our line wasn't good at all last game," Maroon said. "We are considered the leading group of the team, and our best hockey wasn't [Tuesday] night."
The Sharks, though, know they weren't at their best against the Canucks. Not having Joe Thornton and Logan Couture was certainly part of the reason, but far too many of their players – young and veteran alike – looked like they were content going about half-speed after Kevin Labanc and Joel Ward scored within the first 30 seconds of the first period.
The phrase "taking our foot of the gas" is probably overused in hockey, but it's applicable here. Even without Thornton and Couture, the Sharks should have been better against a Vancouver team that became one of the worst in the league after selling at the deadline.
"I think our game in all aspects, just be sharper," Brenden Dillon said. "When you start a game like that and have some success early, you've just got to be able to continue that."
Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott recognized that Sharks-Oilers is a potential, if not likely, first round matchup next week. That possibility should give his team a boost.
"You want to make sure you put your best foot forward and show well, and [make sure] our compete level is where it needs to be," Spott said. "It was at times [Tuesday] night, but I think the big thing for our hockey club is our compete level. Getting that night in and night out, that's something we're going to need against a good hockey club."