EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers know the secret to beating the San Jose Sharks on the ice is to start by finding a way to get off the ice.
The Oilers went back to the drawing board Thursday to figure out how to break out against a suffocating Sharks forecheck that sucked the life out of them in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarter-final series.
“We watched a couple of video clips where they made three (shift) changes before we even made one,” Oiler forward Zack Kassian told reporters after practice at Rogers Place.
“You can’t do that against that team.”
The Sharks went down 2-0 in the first period Wednesday before taking the game over, grinding down the Oilers in Edmonton’s end of the rink for long stretches, outshooting them 44-19 and ultimately beating them 3-2 in overtime.
“We addressed a few things today, one of them being shift length,” said winger Jordan Eberle.
“We’ve got to be able to maintain a pace throughout the game. It’s tough to do that when you get caught and you’re out there for a while and burning energy.”
Captain Connor McDavid said the Oilers also had themselves to blame. He said occasionally when they did break out of their own end they stayed out on the ice even though they were winded, trying to ignite a scoring chance instead of letting someone else hop over the boards.
“You get a chance to go (on offence) and all of a sudden the puck is coming back and you can’t change,” said McDavid.
“(We’re) just not coming off at the right time.”
The Sharks, the defending Western Conference champions, won despite having dominating centre Joe Thornton out with a day-to-day knee injury.
Thornton skated Thursday and said the knee felt better, but said whether he plays before game two in Edmonton on Friday has yet to be determined.
But he said Wednesday’s win makes it easier to not rush him back into the lineup prematurely.
“It’s huge,” said Thornton.
“It was a big win. I hope to come out tomorrow and join the guys, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said the key was not losing composure after going down 2-0.
“Whether you get a team hemmed in for 10 minutes or not and you don’t score or you do score you’ve got to be prepared to do it again the next shift,” said Pavelski.
“I think that’s one thing we did well in Game 1 was really staying patient and staying with that plan.”
The Sharks also benefited from the return of Logan Couture, one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL.
“When you’re able to change and get fresh guys out there ahead of them obviously it creates an advantage for you,” said Couture.
“(But) they’re going to be a lot better. We know that.”
Couture’s mouth and teeth were smashed in late March by an errant puck, but he returned Wednesday with a full-face cage.
He played more than 20 minutes and took a couple of big hits.
He said felt a bit rusty handling the puck.
“Especially on the power play, (I) threw some pucks away and lost some pucks that normally I make better plays on,” said Couture.
“Part of it is being away from the game for two and half weeks and part of it is wearing that cage and getting used to it.”