Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

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Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

PHOENIX Goaltender Antti Niemi will return to the crease tonight in Phoenix and try for his third consecutive shutout when the Sharks visit the Coyotes for an early evening match at Jobing.com Arena.

Niemi took a slap shot in the wrong place during Wednesdays practice, so Thomas Greiss filled on for Thursdays 5-2 home win over Dallas. Niemi is coming off of a 1-0 shutout on Jan. 24 in Calgary in the game just before the All-Star break, and a 6-0 win over Columbus in the first game back from the break on Tuesday.

NEWS: Niemi returns, Demers still not skating

He said that hes not really thinking about his personal streak, but

Maybe it gives me a little extra spark, a little extra energy, he said on Saturday morning.

Niemi has good career numbers against the Coyotes, too. In eight games, hes 5-1-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and one shutout.

He has yet to face them this season, though, as Greiss played on opening night in a 6-3 Sharks win, and took a 3-0 loss on Nov. 12. Both of those games were at HP Pavilion.

They have some of the same core guys and Ive seen the games, so I dont think it really matters, said Niemi of not facing Phoenix yet this year. Its a Western Conference, team so I know them pretty well.

Mike Smith, who was the goaltender for Phoenixs shutout win on Nov. 12, will oppose Niemi. In six career games against the Sharks, Smith is 2-3-0 with a 2.94 GAA and .923 SP.

Sharks confident: San Jose has two comfortable wins under its belt in the first two games after the All-Star break, has won three in a row overall, and is a pretty positive bunch headed into tonight.

Is this the most confident theyve been all season?

Yeah, and its a good time to have our dads here, too, Torrey Mitchell said, referring to most of the team members having their fathers along in what has become an annual event. We want to play hard for them. Were feeling good about ourselves right now, definitely. Were scoring some goals the last two games and playing well so it feels good right now, but we obviously cant get too confident.

We should feel good about our game, coach Todd McLellan said.

After struggling on the scoreboard going into the break, the Sharks have exploded for 11 goals in their last two games while maintaining a strong team defense.

I think the fact that we have scored some goals and buried teams, guys get confident, Ryane Clowe said. When that happens, too, guys get hungry to score. You see guys scoring and putting points up, and then everyone wants to try to contribute.
Coyotes getting desperate: Phoenix enters the game in danger of fading out of the playoff race. They are in 12th place in the Western Conference with 52 points, five behind the eighth place Minnesota Wild.

They have just two wins in their last nine games, and have not played since a 4-1 loss to Anaheim on Jan. 31 in which Smith was pulled in second period.

Its tough to make huge moves in the standings, especially with the one point reward for an overtime or shootout loss. A lot of teams, including our team, have to be desperate, McLellan said.

We want to play well and win as many games as possible, and if you dont have that sense of desperation in your game, you have no chance of winning in the second half it gets ramped up so much.

Despite Phoenixs struggles, the Sharks remember that 3-0 loss on Nov. 12 and wont take the Coyotes lightly.

Theyre a tough team to play and have always been a pretty tough team to play, especially the last couple of years, Mitchell said. Theyre tough to beat here, and were expecting that.

Power play surging: The Sharks power play is five for its last 12 over the past five games, and back in the NHLs top 10 after a pretty dismal two month stretch.

As we reported yesterday, one big reason is Joe Pavelski is back on the point and Logan Couture is on a loaded top unit that also features Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton Patrick Marleau and Pavelski. Theres more to it than that, though, according to Clowe.

I think more than anything, if you see the goals were scoring, its just shooting, he said. The pucks have taken a couple bounces and went in, and were running the plays we want to run, but were shooting.

The Sharks second power play unit consists of Clowe, Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn.

Crowd sourcing: The Coyotes, plagued by relocation rumors for the past several years, are the worst draw in the NHL. Officially they are averaging 11,589 fans per game, but on many nights its much, much less.

Is it more difficult to play in front of a light crowd?

Its fun to play in front of a lot of people when youre on the road, but youve got to deal with it. Its the same for both teams, Mitchell said. Its almost like a road game for them too, sometimes. But, you get up for the game. Theres two points on the line, so everyones ready to go.

Odds and ends: Joe Thorntons 58 points against the Coyotes are his most against any team. Logan Couture has a five-game point streak, with five goals and three assists. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) remain out for the Sharks. Phoenixs power play is just 2-for-26 in the last 11 games. Joe Pavelski has six goals in his last six games against Phoenix.

Couture fights through illness to push Sharks over Lightning

Couture fights through illness to push Sharks over Lightning

SAN JOSE – Logan Couture didn’t skate against the Kings on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, but that sure didn’t mean he was feeling all that energetic to play against the Lightning on Thursday.

The 27-year-old center had a pretty rough start to his week. He was unable to finish Monday’s game against Winnipeg, and then couldn’t go on the quick road trip to Southern California on Tuesday, either.

We’ll let him explain.

"I wasn't feeling too well during the [Winnipeg] game, had an IV during that game, and came off. Didn't have enough energy to finish that game. Went home. Started throwing up a bunch and actually went to the hospital, got a couple more IVs. Slept that night, didn't make it through the night, threw up a couple more times. Didn't really get any sleep, so I talked to [Sharks trainer Ray Tufts] and he told me to stay home, and not come on the trip.
 
"Didn't get any food in my throat for about 48 hours. It was a tough little stretch, and finally yesterday I was able to get back to normal. I think it was just a stomach bug, but it hit pretty hard. I think I lost six pounds. So, it was a tough couple days.”

Despite all that, Couture managed to have an impact in the Sharks’ 2-1 win over the Lightning. And not just a minor impact, either, as he scored the game-winning goal early in the third period in a game in which the Sharks as a team were understandably sluggish at times but still found a way.

"I thought he was excellent. Gutsy effort by him coming back in,” said coach Pete DeBoer, who slightly limited Couture’s minutes.

The winning goal came when Couture’s linemates, Kevin Labanc and Joonas Donskoi, fought for a loose puck behind the Tampa Bay net. Labanc managed to poke it to Couture, who had pushed away from Tyler Johnson and found just enough space inside the far post with his shot to break a 1-1 tie on the opening shift of the third period.

Goalie Aaron Dell made it hold up, making some clutch third period saves on Ondrej Palat and Valtteri Filppula, in particular.

After allowing a bad goal in Calgary last week that cost the Sharks at least one point in the standings, Dell was outstanding on a night that his teammates needed him.

"I've given up a lot of goals in my life. I think it's pretty easy to let it go now, but I really wanted to come back and make a good impression after that,” he said.

Ryan Carpenter, familiar with Dell from their days on the Barracuda together last season, said: “He made some big saves tonight. That’s just what he does. Whenever he plays, he always does well somehow. It’s nice to be a part of it, and see him get that one tonight.”

Carpenter played a role, too, getting the Sharks a 1-0 lead with his second career NHL goal five minutes into the middle frame. He was the beneficiary of a long shift by the Sharks in the Tampa Bay end, firing in a Paul Martin feed off of Nikita Nesterov’s leg.

"That was just off a line change,” DeBoer said. “He got out there a little bit early and made a great play. Big goal for us."

The Sharks were in survival mode earlier in the game, one day after recording one of their more satisfying, complete wins of the season over the rival Kings. Tampa Bay recorded eight of the first nine shots on goal, and San Jose was having particular trouble moving the puck out of their own end and through the neutral zone. 

After Carpenter’s goal, and a remarkable power play score by Jonathan Drouin tied it, the message in the dressing room in the second intermission was to go out and win the third period.

"Guys did a good job in the locker room going out in the third and just understanding what’s at stake," Joe Pavelski said. "There’s two big points, it doesn’t matter your opponent that you’re playing, you’ve got to go find it."

They did, courtesy of Couture, even if his pads were a little looser than normal from his sudden and unexpected diet.

Instant Replay: Sharks sweep back-to-back with win over Lightning

Instant Replay: Sharks sweep back-to-back with win over Lightning

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – After missing his first game of the season, Logan Couture returned to the lineup to score the game-winning goal as the Sharks downed the Lightning at SAP Center, 2-1, on Thursday night.

Couture, who was too sick to play against the Kings on Wednesday, got his 15th of the season early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Linemate Kevin Labanc fished a puck out from along the end wall, while Couture got just enough of the puck to squeeze it through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 22 seconds into the final frame.

Backup goalie Aaron Dell made 24 saves, as the scuffling Lightning were held to two or fewer goals for the seventh time in their last eight games.

In the third period, Dell stopped Ondrej Palat with about 13 minutes left, getting his right pad on the Tampa Bay forward’s attempt from between the circles. He stretched to deny Valtteri Filppula’s wraparound try with less than seven minutes to go, preserving the Sharks’ slim lead.

The Sharks improved to 5-2-0 in their last seven games, and swept the two-game season series with the Lightning. San Jose is 16-6-0 overall against teams from the Eastern Conference.

After a dull first period, the pace picked up in the second as the teams traded scores.

Ryan Carpenter put San Jose ahead at 5:01, as his slap shot from the circle directed in off of Nikita Nesterov’s leg for his second career NHL score. The rookie was recalled on Tuesday after a brief stint with the Sharks in November, and was playing in just his fifth game this season.

Tampa Bay responded with a gorgeous power play score by Jonathan Drouin less than two minutes later. The 21-year-old took the puck from the neutral zone and charged ahead, going right around a flat-footed Marc-Edouard Vlasic and slipping it past Dell at 6:51.

Along with Couture’s return, Joonas Donskoi also played after missing the previous three games with an upper body injury.

The Sharks won the only other game between the two teams on Nov. 12 in Tampa Bay, 3-1.

San Jose improved to 5-3-0 in the second of back-to-backs.

Special teams

The Sharks had just one power play midway through the third period, and did not score.

The Lightning brought the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play into the game, although they hadn’t scored in their previous three games. They finished 1-for-3.

In goal

Dell was starting for the second time in nine days, the shortest length time off he’s had between games this season. He improved to 5-2-0 in his first NHL season, and has allowed two or fewer goals in five of his seven starts.

Vasilevskiy fell to 10-11-2 on the season, allowing two Sharks goals on 24 shots.

Lineup

Rookie Timo Meier was scratched for the first time since he was recalled in mid-December, dealing with what the team called a minor upper body injury. Micheal Haley was surprisingly placed on injured reserve before the game with an lower body injury. Mikkel Boedker was benched for the third period.

Tampa Bay remains without Steven Stamkos, who has been out since mid-November with a torn miniscus, while top defenseman Victor Hedman missed his third straight due to illness.

Up next

A pair of games against the putrid Avalanche, who are buried in last place in the Central Division and are the worst team in the NHL, is up next for San Jose. Saturday marks the SAP Center return of Matt Nieto, who was claimed off of waivers from the Sharks on Jan. 5.

The Sharks visit Pepsi Center on Monday for the second of the home-and-home, are in Winnipeg on Tuesday, and play their final game before the All-Star break at home next Thursday against Edmonton.