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.