So while their stars flickered, the San Jose Sharks leaned on their stalwart goalie, his defencemen and an impressive fourth line for a badly needed home victory.
Evgeni Nabokov made 22 saves in his third shutout in four games, and San Jose beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 Sunday night for its first win at the Shark Tank in five weeks.
Fourth-liner Steve Bernier scored an early goal, and defenceman Kyle McLaren added another with 3:52 left in the Sharks’ first home victory in five games. Fellow blue-liner Matt Carle added an empty-net goal for San Jose, which had lost seven of its last eight at home during a key stretch of the playoff race.
Not much was pretty about this victory, but the Sharks need every win to keep pace in the Western Conference chase with Dallas and Minnesota, which both won Sunday. All three clubs have 85 points apiece in a tie for fifth place with four weeks left in the regular season.
San Jose easily has the worst home record among the eight Western Conference clubs currently in playoff position, and most of its forwards are struggling through slumps – but the high-flying Sharks have turned defensive to get wins.
Coach Ron Wilson heaped praise on his supporting players – particularly the fourth line of Bernier, Ryane Clowe and Marcel Goc – while remaining confident his big-name stars will find another groove soon.
“The games we’ve lost, we’ve lost to teams that are very good,” Wilson said. “Our problem all year has been consistency. If we can just develop a nice, consistent effort down the stretch, we’ll be OK.”
Nabokov stonewalled Edmonton for his seventh shutout of the season. The Sharks’ longtime starter was put into a platoon with Vesa Toskala this season, but has played his best hockey in years during a stretch of 12 straight starts while Toskala has been slowed by a strained groin.
Dwayne Roloson made 28 saves for the Oilers, but couldn’t prevent the defending conference champions’ seventh straight loss. Edmonton has scored just five goals and been shut out three times during the stretch.
“In a 1-0 game, anything can tip, anything can bounce in,” Nabokov said. “It’s hard to make any save better than the other, because sometimes the easy save is more important than the hard save. But I think we’re playing pretty well and working pretty hard.”
Nabokov had a shutout streak stretching more than eight periods before Vancouver scored in the third period of a 2-1 overtime victory Friday night. San Jose’s goalies traded starts through the first four months of the season, but Nabokov didn’t find his stride until Toskala went down with his nagging injury.
Nabokov and his defencemen had little trouble defensively against the floundering Oilers, who are without injured regulars Petr Nedved, Ales Hemsky, Marty Reasoner, Steve Staios and Jan Hejda.
“It’s a frustrating exercise to try and win in a situation like this,” coach Craig MacTavish said. “This is a tough game to win when you can’t score.”
Bernier alertly swatted home a blocked shot for just his second goal since Dec. 26. He was the Sharks’ fourth-leading scorer before being sent to the minors and battling injuries, but is making a strong late-season surge on the Sharks’ fourth line.
The goal came on one of the few cohesive plays by the Sharks, who struggled for consistent passing and chemistry. Edmonton also blocked 18 shots in the first two periods, including five by top defenceman Jason Smith.
But after 16 tense minutes in the third, McLaren essentially put it out of reach with a long shot that darted through traffic. With 40 seconds left, Carle added the 10th goal of his rookie season, tying Brad Stuart’s club record.
“I had no clue on that second goal,” Roloson said. “I just tried to stay square and let the chances come to me. I tried to move to areas where I thought the puck might come through.”
Notes: Guerin remained scoreless in six games since the Sharks acquired him in a deadline trade from St. Louis for Ville Nieminen, a first-round pick and a top prospect. The veteran forward has generated few scoring chances despite playing on a line with Marleau and playmaking rookie Joe Pavelski. … Before the game, the Sharks reassigned G Dimitri Patzold to their AHL affiliate in Worcester to make room for Toskala.