SAN JOSE Like them or not, shootouts are going to play a large role in determining which Western Conference teams end up in the playoffs and which end up on the golf course.
Thats probably why the Sharks ended their practice on Thursday with a shootout drill. Counting the 4-3 win against Phoenix on Saturday, six of the last 11 Sharks games have gone past regulation, and four of them have been decided via the skills competition. San Jose is now 2-2 in the last four, and 8-5 on the season.
After some recent odd choices for the shootout in previous games, coach Todd McLellan decided to go with his bread and butter on Saturday.
Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe have been the Sharks most reliable shooters, both improving to 5-for-10 this year after finding daylight on Mike Smith in what was the most important extra point of the year. After Handzus was able to beat Smith to the stick side, Clowe was asked if he was trying to find that same spot on purpose before he fired in a goal where Handzus had just converted earlier.
I noticed on Handzus goal that Smith was back in his net a bit. Ive went to that move a few times this year, and Im starting to feel confident with it, said Clowe, who has had success going to his backhand in shootouts in prior seasons. If I have to go to the backhand, hopefully I can still use that, as well. I had it in my mind I was going to go there.
Clowe was pleased with the way the team was able to handle adversity for the second straight game, particularly when it surrendered a goal late in the first and then early in the second to fall behind, 3-2.
The last two games, I like how were just going, he said. If something happens, we just forget about it. Go after them. We did that.
Marleau gets one: Offense has been a struggle for the Sharks in recent weeks (months?), as the team has now gone 20 straight games without scoring more than three goals in regulation.
One big reason for that is Patrick Marleaus failure to light the lamp. The winger and sometimes center had just one goal in his last 14 games before scoring the tying goal in the first period against the Coyotes.
I finally found the back of the net, so thats good, Marleau said after the game. Ill look forward to getting some more chances and some more goals.
Is there a personal sense of relief?
Probably a little bit, but you try and play the same way whether or not youve scored, he said.
Coyotes displeased with start: Phoenix may have scored the first goal of the game, when Daymond Langkow took advantage of a Sharks turnover behind their own net, but coach Dave Tippett didnt like the way his team started the game. The Sharks seemed to have the early energy.
I thought in the first period, we didnt have everybody in, Tippett said.
Still, the Coyotes were able to make a game of it and record a point while missing captain Shane Doan (suspension), leading goal-scorer Radim Vrbata (lower body injury), and big-minute defenseman Adrian Aucoin (lower body injury).
I thought we made a couple of little mental mistakes early. Everybody does that, and it happened, but the good thing is were mature enough to believe we can come back and stay in games and brush those little mistakes off and tighten up, defenseman Derek Morris said.
We got out there and we competed hard and found a way to keep ourselves in the game, Tippett said. Unfortunately we couldnt get the two points. But, we came into a hard building here and with some injury situations like this, I thought our guys competed hard and we found a way to get a valuable point.
The Coyotes host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night, and are off until hosting the Sharks on Thursday, March 29.