Oilers need 60-minute effort

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:45 AM ET

SAN JOSE -- The last time out the Edmonton Oilers looked as though they had it in the bag.

However, this is a team where a sure thing doesn't exists.

Up 4-3 late in the third period, the Oilers conceded a short-handed goal to the San Jose Sharks to let the Western Conference leaders out of the bag.

The Sharks then went on to win the game in a shootout.

"We can take something from that game," said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. "But we know this is going to be a big test for us, and hopefully we can get off to a good start and come out with a win."

With the Sharks hovering near the top of the standings over the past few seasons and the Oilers struggling to keep above water, conventional wisdom would dictate San Jose should have an easy time of it when the teams face off tonight at the HP Pavilion.

Yet the Oilers have won five of the previous eight games against the Sharks in San Jose.

They won games in the Shark tank they had no business winning mainly due to outstanding goaltending.

"We've played pretty well in San Jose over the last couple of years," Gagner said. "We've had some great goaltending going in there and found ways to win games. This is a tough test for us, obviously San Jose is the top team in the league and if we're going to gain ground, we have to win games against everybody."

The problem this time around is the Oilers and the Sharks are at extreme ends of the spectrum.

The Sharks go into the contest as the best team in the conference having won their last seven. The Oilers, meanwhile, are last in the conference having lost eight of their last nine.

"They've got a lot of skilled players, they have four guys on the Olympic team and that says a lot about their team," Gagner said. "I think that's something we have to be aware of, even if we're up in the game. But at the same time, we have to be aggressive. Our best games are the ones where we're aggressive the whole game and continue to push forward. We have to bring that attitude into the game."

The one thing the Oilers do having going for them is goaltending.

Jeff Deslauriers has put together two of his best performances of the season on back-to-back occasions. He got enough help in a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs but was left alone on a island in a 2-1 loss to the Flames Thursday.

"He was awesome for us, he made some big saves, kept us in the game," Gagner said. "We have to do a better job of supporting him, collapsing in the D-zone and taking away shooting lanes and getting the puck in. That was our main problem, especially in the second, we weren't getting pucks in deep, we were turning it over and double-crossing ourselves.

"If we can get away from that, get pucks in deep and I think that will play a lot of dividends. We have to get the pucks in deep when we try to get cute at the line and try to make little fancy plays, it's not going to help anyone and we're all guilty of it. If we get pucks in deep and create chances off the cycle, we'll be able to get more shots on net which will help us."

Getting in a full 60-minute effort will also help.

The Oilers biggest problem recently is being unable to sustain their play through the entire game.

"We've played a lot of teams tough for a while, but we don't tough it out all night long," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. "That's the problem with us. We don't have that mental tenacity to fight all the way through it all night long.

"This is not an easy business just to think you can play for a little while and things are going to turn out nice, they don't. You have to earn what you get in this game."

Notes: The Oilers have sent backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk back to their minor league affiliate in Springfield and recalled Bryan Pitton from the Stockton Thunder.

Dubnyk had just one start in his role as backup to Jeff Deslauriers allowing seven goals on 26 shots in a 7-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues just before Christmas.


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