Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

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Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

PHOENIX If youre looking for the moment where things started to go south really south then the Sharks 5-3 loss in Phoenix on Feb. 4 is a good place to start.

Since then, the Sharks (33-24-9, 76 points) have won just four of 17 games (4-10-3) and are fighting to stay in the Western Conferences top eight. Theyll try and stop a current four-game losing skid (0-2-2) tonight when they visit the slumping Coyotes again at Jobing.com Arena.

Weve had some good battles against them this year. Last time in here against these guys we werent real good, so I think the start is key for us, Ryane Clowe said. We have to get the first goal, because thats not been happening for us lately. The first goal against a team like this is a big one.

Clowe is right. The Coyotes are 26-4-5 when scoring first, and just 7-21-5 when falling behind. Phoenix gets better as the game goes on, too, as it's 11 in the third period but a combined -7 through the first two frames.

The Coyotes (33-25-10, 76 points) went an incredible 11-0-1 in the month of February to get back in the playoff picture, but are just 0-4-1 in March. They lost in a shootout to Minnesota on Thursday night.

The Sharks would move into seventh place in the conference with a regulation win, leapfrogging the Coyotes, with whom they have two games in hand.

Power outage: For the first time this season, the Sharks have gone five straight games without a power play goal. They are a combined 0-for-11 over that span.

The unit did have its chances against Dallas, though, including Patrick Marleaus look at an open net that was stopped by Kari Lehtonen early in the game.

I liked our power play in Dallas. We had a lot of shots, had a lot of opportunities, and Lehtonen made a couple big saves that one on Patty with a wide open net, Logan Couture said. If were getting those chances, theyre going to start going in for us.

Todd McLellan said: Its one of those ebbs and flows right now. We need it to get over the hump. Weve played a lot of one-goal games here lately, and we do need it to get over the hump. The penalty kill has been fairly good over the last few games and hasnt given up anything, so the power play has to make the difference.

San Joses penalty kill hasnt allowed an opposition goal in four of the last five games. The Coyotes are just 2-for-28 on the power play in their last eight games.
Better efforts, results not there: Theres no question that the Sharks last two losses have been better efforts from the team. They could easily be carrying a two-game winning streak into tonights game with Phoenix, having lost to Edmonton and Dallas in shootouts.

Even looking back at the Edmonton game, we feel like we did a lot of good things. A couple days before that we had been working on the defensive zone, and we did a great job, I felt, the last game, Clowe said.

Obviously theres still work to be done. But for us right now, its just getting that win under our belt. Get on a streak. I think were a confident team, but its always nice to get on a streak.

Couture seems to agree with his linemate, but reminds that effort doesnt always translate into points in the standings.

You need to see results at some point. Its getting too late in the season; we need to see some results right now, he said.

Niemi vs. Smith: Antti Niemi will make his sixth straight start tonight, opposing Phoenixs Mike Smith.

Niemi is 1-2-2 in his last five starts, but has allowed just nine goals over that span. Smith did not play against Minnesota, and is riding a four-game losing streak. He was pulled after just four minutes on March 6 in Columbus, allowing two goals on seven shots.

In nine career games against the Coyotes, Niemi is 5-2-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Smith is 3-3-0 against San Jose, with a 2.95 GAA and .922 SP.
Odds and ends: These teams meet twice more after tonight; March 24 in San Jose and March 29 in Phoenix. ... All signs point to TJ Galiardi returning to the Sharks lineup tonight. San Jose is just 1-5-2 in its last eight road games. Phoenixs Martin Hanzal is questionable with a wrist injury suffered in the last game.

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward has been in the league long enough to know that the Sharks got outworked and outhustled in their decisive loss to the Blues on Saturday.

That could be why he put his body on the line in the second period against the Jets on Monday afternoon at SAP Center. Ward hustled to a loose puck along the wall with the Sharks holding a slim 1-0 lead and slipped it ahead to Chris Tierney, before getting absolutely plastered by Mark Stuart on a hit as big as you’ll see in today’s NHL.

While Ward was sluggish to get up as a result of his head bouncing off the ice surface, Tierney gave it to Timo Meier, who finished off a breakaway goal early in the second period.

While he was seeing stars from what he called a “clean hit,” Ward also heard the goal horn.

“I tried to get the puck out, obviously, and next thing I knew I was on my back and heard the horn go off,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure what happened after that.”

What happened was a 5-2 Sharks win, two days after one of their worst performances of the season, a 4-0 home defeat to St. Louis. San Jose withstood an early push by the visiting Jets but took over the game in the second period, particularly after Ward’s sacrifice.

"That's the commitment we talk about,” Pete DeBoer said. “Taking that hit, making that play, [Meier] scores the goal. We need that. Joel's a guy that brings that to the rink almost every night. That's what it's going to take at this time of year in order to have success."

In a rare afternoon start, the Sharks looked sleepy in the beginning. The Jets were the better team for the first few minutes, but Martin Jones made sure they didn’t get on the board. He made a key stop on a Shawn Matthias one-timer just 1:29 into the first period, and then bailed out David Schlemko on a defensive zone turnover a few minutes later, again denying Matthias.

The Sharks went to the penalty kill after Schlemko’s cross-checking minor at 11:39, but Ward scored 15 seconds after that, picking the corner over Michael Hutchinson for a pretty shorthanded marker. He correctly read a Justin Braun clearing attempt, when Braun rimmed it past Dustin Byfuglien, who couldn’t keep it in at the blue line. 

After that, “just kind of saw glove side and fired it there as quick as I could,” Ward said.

That led to a dominant second period for San Jose. Along with Meier’s goal, Brent Burns scored on a power play and the slumping Jets were noticeably deflated from there.

Jones said the Jets “came out real hard,” but, “that’s pretty much all [my teammates] needed from me today. You can’t really ask for much more than that from the guys. They put up five, and slowed down a pretty fast team.”

Tierney said: “Joner did a great job of keeping us in it and not giving up a goal there and putting us behind. After that, we kind of got it going a bit and started playing our game.”

There was even some late comedy. Trailing 4-1 at the time, Jets coach Paul Maurice decided to take Hutchinson out for an extra attacker. Jones noticed the empty net and was lining up a shot after he retrieved a dump-in. It didn’t go more than a foot in front of him, though, as Mark Scheifele blocked it and slipped it into an empty net.

Jones could be seen grinning through his mask, while Tierney said he was “laughing on the bench.”

“That’s the first time I’ve tried [shooting at an empty net], and probably the last, too,” Jones said.

In total, Monday's result offered quite the change in mood from Saturday’s whipping.

DeBoer said: “I don't think anyone in our room was happy with how last game went. It was a good bounce-back game."

“It was definitely good today to rebound, and get back to winning,” Ward said.

Instant Replay: Sharks offense comes to life, ground Jets 5-2

Instant Replay: Sharks offense comes to life, ground Jets 5-2

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, and survived a thundering hit in the second period, in helping the Sharks to a 5-2 win over Winnipeg on Monday afternoon at SAP Center.

Ward’s linemates Chris Tierney and Timo Meier also had a goal and assist each, as the Sharks snapped their modest two-game losing streak. Martin Jones made 26 saves in net.

Winnipeg lost its fourth in a row (0-3-1), getting swept on a three-game trip through California.

Leading 1-0 on Ward’s first period shorthanded score, San Jose took control in the middle frame.

Meier’s breakaway goal at 2:45 upped the lead to 2-0. Prior to the conversion, Ward was plowed by Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart at the defensive blue line, but managed to push the puck to Tierney in the neutral zone. Tierney’s lead pass found Meier streaking in, and the rookie deposited his first goal in 13 games and first since his NHL debut on Dec. 16 in Montreal.

Ward went to the dressing room, likely to be checked for a concussion after his head hit the ice, but returned later in the period.

Brent Burns’ power play goal gave the Sharks a three-goal cushion, when his shot went wide but rebounded off of the end boards and off of the back of goalie Michael Hutchinson’s skate at 7:08.

San Jose continued to press for the much of the remaining 13 minutes of the second period, outshooting the Jets 15-4.

Tierney added insurance with a wrist shot from the circle at 11:41 of the third, finding the puck after a Meier shot was blocked. It was his first in 14 games, and gave the Sharks a 4-0 lead.

Josh Morrissey’s goal at 17:24 ruined the shutout for Jones. Mark Scheifele scored with 15 seconds left to make it 4-2, after Jones blocked what looked like an attempt to shoot the puck into an empty net. An empty net goal by Joe Thornton capped the scoring.

After Winnipeg looked more assertive than San Jose in the opening minutes, Ward staked the Sharks the first period lead when his wrist shot found the top far corner at 11:54 of the first period. It was his fourth of the season, two of which have come shorthanded.

The Sharks have claimed both of their afternoon games this season, including a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Nov. 25.

San Jose visits Winnipeg on Jan. 24 and March 6, both of which will the second of a back-to-back for the visitors.

Special teams

The Sharks finished 1-for-4 on the power play, just their second such goal in the past seven games (2-for-17). The penalty kill was a perfect 2-for-2, coming on consecutive penalties to David Schlemko and Tierney just one minute and 45 seconds apart.

Ward’s shorthanded goal was the Sharks’ third of the season, two of which have come from the veteran forward.

Tierney’s high-sticking minor in the first period was his first penalty of the season in 44 games.

In goal

Jones made his biggest stop just a minute and a half into the game, swallowing a Shawn Matthias one-timer from the slot on a setup by Dustin Byfuglien. He denied Matthias a second time with 11:18 to go, just before Ward’s shorty.

Hutchinson took the loss with four goals allowed on 31 shots.

Lineup

The Sharks missed Joonas Donskoi for the second straight game with an upper body injury, although it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Winnipeg remains without rookie Patrick Laine, who began the day tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals (21) and points (37), due to a concussion suffered on Jan. 7.

San Jose reassigned defenseman Tim Heed and forward Ryan Carpenter to the Barracuda, presumably to play in their game later Monday night.

Up next

The Sharks close out their season series with the Kings on Wednesday night at Staples Center. San Jose won the first two, but Los Angeles swept a home-and-home on Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, the latter of which came in overtime in Southern California.