SAN JOSE — Every team has a black hole like this one, a rink where their road points go to die. A building where the home team is so confident, it’s not a matter of if, but simply a matter of how they’ll beat you tonight.
"I never played a game where I liked losing," spat Darnell Nurse, when we asked him about a 1-7-1 record in the past nine games versus the San Jose Sharks. "It doesn’t matter who, or how many times you lose to them. I’ve never met a guy in this league who likes losing."
In a season where the Pacific Division has been turned on its head, the 14-6-3 Edmonton Oilers pulled 10 points ahead of the Sharks with a 5-2 romp here on Tuesday night, seven days after the Sharks had pasted them by a 6-3 count.
Five players scored for the Oilers, from three separate lines, with the power play adding a goal and the penalty kill flawless. There is confidence growing here, along with some support scoring — like another goal from Jujhar Khaira, who last scored in consecutive games on Dec. 23 and 27, 2017.
"We have a lot to prove this year, especially after the last couple of seasons. We want to be a playoff team. A contender," said Khaira. "Beating these guys is one of those steps."
It’s one thing to talk about revenge, as the Oilers had for the past couple of days. It’s quite another to exact that revenge against a San Jose club that had won six straight, and Edmonton did just that, with a dominant win.
"After last week’s game, we had a mission coming into today," Khaira said. "Top to bottom, everybody played well. We gave an honest effort out there, and it paid off."
Connor McDavid had a goal and two assists, and has 16 points in his past five games. Bo Horvat, Matt Duchene and Sebastien Aho each have 16 points in their entire 2019-20 seasons thus far.
He and Leon Draisaitl sit atop the NHL scoring race with 43 and 44 points respectively, as Draisaitl extended his points streak to 13 games, tied for the longest in the NHL this season. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse each had a pair of assists, and with Matt Benning leaving late in the opening period after taking a stick to the head, Klefbom would play 31:38 of this 60-miute game.
Klefbom now leads all NHL players, averaging 25:55 in ice time per game.
"My body feels good," he said. "Happy and proud the way we responded and how we played in the first period. This is not an easy game to come and play … especially the way they’ve been playing."
The Oilers hadn’t won in regulation in this building since April of 2017, a game so far in the distant past that Milan Lucic had a hat trick. He’s scored 16 goals in the 182 games he’s played since, while James Neal — dealt to Edmonton in a one-for-one swap for Lucic — scored his 13th in game No. 23 of the season.
Neal is limping around on a suspected broken toe, but his hands are still lethal in tight. His power-play goal, Neal’s ninth on the season, was vintage James Neal, roofed from the top of the crease.
Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen ran his record to 8-1-2, with a 2.39 goals against average and a .923 saves percentage. How good was the Three Metres on Tuesday?
He stopped 17 shots in the first period, beaten only on a total fluke — a shot he blockered into Kevin Labanc’s chest, which pinballed off of Koskinen’s No. 19 and into the net. Koskinen would allow two goals on 35 shots, as he continues a season that looks very similar to one you might pay a goalie $4.5 million for.
He is light years better than the big Finn we watched last season. It’s not even close.
"There is no need to compare anymore, what it was a year ago and what it is now," he said. "I’m trying to move on, trying to stay at this level."
Funny, so is his team.