I need to say I'm confused lately about all the talk out there that the Sharks would be so much better off against the Oilers than the Ducks, Kings or any of the other hopefuls they might meet in round one. I don't know if people haven't been watching the Oilers in recent months, or if they didn't notice the last game the Sharks played against them, or if they're thinking of last year's Oilers.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t the Oilers team of last year, or even of earlier this year. And that has nothing to do with Milan Lucic, by the way, whom we’ll get to in a moment. It has a lot to do, however, with guys like Hendricks, Kassian, and especially Maroon. All three can play pretty good hockey. Not merely energy guys, grinders or toughs, not merely garbage collectors, they can all skate and score. More importantly, they are relentless and punishing hitters and scrappers when needed – and even when not needed.
Lucic, on the other hand, is the most overrated and overpaid goon in the league. More to the point, I remember all too well how he almost single-handedly lost the Kings’ 2016 match-up with the Sharks last year by running around trying to decapitate Logan Couture and amassing stupid penalties at critical moments. “Luc” simply has no harness on his emotions to be of any use to his team. In fact, if the Sharks meet the Oilers in the playoffs, I would hope he's on the ice as much as possible because that will mean almost certainly McDavid isn’t.
Turning to some other facts that should give Sharks fans pause before going all giddy over an Oilers match-up, let’s look at the season series so far. On Dec. 23, Sharks won in OT, which is no sort of domination. On Jan. 10, Sharks won 5-3 on the strength of Mikkel Boedker’s hat trick. And on Jan. 26, the Oilers won 4-1 in a dominant display of skating, hitting and complete team engagement.
What we saw in that game should make any Sharks fan wary of meeting this team in round one or beyond. The Sharks really had no answers for the three I mentioned earlier, for the relentless team skating of the Oilers, the smothering play, the grit accompanied by skill, and the final score reflected all that. I came away from that game hoping we don’t meet the Oilers this year in the play-offs, and knowing that the years to come are going to be tough sledding against this team and a maturing Connor McDavid.
On top of that, for the Oilers, a Sharks match-up could provide just the right motivational fuel they need to put the league on notice. It’s the kind of opportunity a team like this could really embrace and rally behind, using the Sharks’ relative age and lack of speed against them opportunistically. If any conditions could be right for the Oilers, this would seem to be the best.
All of which makes me wonder, can the Sharks strategize to end up with a better match-up?
Thanks for reading and don’t trip over the blue line as you enter the zone!