Sharks nip Oilers

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton (R) scores past Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin during the...

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton (R) scores past Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin during the second period of their NHL hockey game in San Jose, California December 17, 2011. (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:52 PM ET

SAN JOSE - When your team needs to shake things up, heading into the heart of California earthquake territory seems like a good place to start.

It wasn’t.

With just two wins in their previous nine starts, the Edmonton Oilers came to San Jose desperately needing points, but despite a pretty good rumble, left with nothing.

They looked miles better in this 3-2 loss than they did in their last two games — lifeless defeats in Calgary and Phoenix — but style points don’t count in the standings, where the Oilers are losing ground.

“We battled so hard, it was a different feeling out on the ice than the last couple of games,” said Ryan Jones. “As an entire team we battled.

“You could tell there was a lot more pride in our team and our game (Saturday night).”

That they actually looked like they wanted it as badly as the other guys shows that there might still be some fight left in this team, but playing well in losses against good teams doesn’t cut it.

“It was arrow up in terms of the effort and the game plan and giving ourselves a chance to win, at least, but that’s not good enough in this league,” said head coach Tom Renney, who knows that with Detroit and Minnesota next up, the going isn’t getting any easier.

“You like to hope that it’s the old adage that when you’re starting to play better you lose games that you should win, and maybe it’s a sign of things to come, but it’s not like we’ve got a bantam rep team coming in on Monday.”

Neither Edmonton nor the Sharks came into this one with anything resembling momentum — San Jose had three wins in its last 10 games — so it was anybody’s game to lose. It turned out to be an intense and exciting battle, though, between two teams that looked a lot like they were afraid of losing their grip on the season.

San Jose scored what looked like the goal of the month to get things started when Martin Havlat and Michal Handzus played tic-tac-toe on a 2-on-0 (bad line change), but Jordan Eberle topped it when he undressed both Colin White and Antti Niemi to tie it nine minutes later.

A shorthanded goal from Ryan Jones put Edmonton up 2-1, and the Shark Tank rained down boos for the next several minutes, but Edmonton couldn’t find the back-breaking goal. Instead, they paraded to the penalty box, giving San Jose a chance to settle down and eventually tie it on Joe Thornton’s goal, scored all alone in front with Ryan Whitney out by the Oilers blue-line.

As has been the case a lot lately, the Oilers spent far too long in the penalty box. They took five minors — four of them in the second period to derail their momentum — and gave up the game-winning goal on the fifth.

“We can’t stay out of the box,” said Shawn Horcoff. “You can’t play hockey like that. If we’re not the most penalized team in the league, I don’t know where we are. It kills momentum.”

“It’s taxing,” added Jones. “When you’re playing four guys on the PK all the time, by the time you get to the sixth or seventh penalty, guys are just exhausted.

“And at the same time Hall, Eberle and RNH aren’t seeing the minutes they need to see in order to produce when we’re sitting in the box.”

Patrick Marleau’s power-play goal midway through the third period, with Theo Peckham in the box for interference, put the Sharks in front for good.

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/sun_tychkowski


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