Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

557548.jpg

Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

SAN JOSE In been quite awhile since the San Jose Sharks found success against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Sharks cruised to a 6-3 win over Phoenix Coyotes back on opening night, 6-3. Since then, Phoenix has taken the next three by a combined score of 11-3, including a 3-0 shutout two weeks ago at Jobing.com Arena.

Do the Sharks owe the Coyotes a beating?

We owe ourselves one. We havent played well against this team, Todd McLellan said on Saturday morning. Weve been a little bit lethargic, weve mismanaged the game, weve turned pucks over all of the things that lead into them having success. Theyre built around capitalizing on that. We owe ourselves a good game, we dont owe them a good game.

Tonight is a big test for us. Weve lost the last three games against them, so well be ready tonight, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.

There are eight regular season games remaining for the 10th place Sharks (37-27-10, 84 points), who are two points behind the seventh place Coyotes (37-26-12, 86 points) with one game in hand.

Of the eight, seven are against Pacific Division opponents. San Jose, which visits Phoenix on March 29, is just 7-9-1 against its own division.

Coyotes hanging tough: Unlike the Sharks, the Coyotes werent supposed to be in playoff position this late in the regular season, especially after losing goalie Ilya Bryzgalov over the summer.

But here they are, a surprise to many once again, led by players like goaltender Mike Smith and veteran forward Ray Whitney.

Daniel Winnik spent a year with the Coyotes, so he has a good bit of perspective on coach Dave Tippetts philosophy.

Theyre extremely patient. They way Tippett coaches, they dont care if they ice the puck seven times in a row. Their whole bench isnt getting frustrated, said Winnik, who scored his first goal as a Shark on Thursday against Boston. They try and slow the game down and make it boring enough that you get disinterested and try plays that create turnovers, and thats how they score goals.

Smith (33-18-9, 2.36 GAA, .925 SP) presents a challenge more than just his steady play in the net. Hes known as one of the best puck-handlers in the NHL for a goalie, so the Sharks will try and prevent him from gaining possession.

You really have to be very cautious of your dumps and try to keep it away from him, Winnik said. If they do go to him, you know its an easy breakout for them. Its definitely like having a third defenseman back there. And obviously, hes been really good in the net for them, too.

McLellan said: You dont always get to enter the zone with possession, so when you do have to give it up, you better put it in an area where you can retrieve it and at least contest it. Mike is maybe the best in the NHL at handling pucks and setting up defensemen.

Smith has two shutouts against the Sharks this season the previous game on March 10, and Nov. 12 at HP Pavilion, both 3-0 finals. Antti Niemi (29-20-9, 2.46 GAA, .913 SP) will be in net for the Sharks, making his 14th straight start.

Doan out: The Coyotes will be missing forward and captain Shane Doan. Doan is serving the second of a three-game suspension for hitting Stars forward Jamie Benn during a game on March 20. Hes their third-leading scorer with 47 points (12g, 26a).

He is a big loss for them, mostly on the power play. They lose his one-timer on that side, and hes been a threat for him there, Winnik said. Hes really the heartbeat of the team and the organization because hes been there forever.

Thats not something the Sharks are focusing on, though.

Joe Pavelski said: Someones going to step up in his position. It doesnt make our approach any different. Hes a good player for them and obviously theyd like to have him, but were not too worried about that. Were trying to take care of ourselves.

Phoenix registered a key victory over another team battling for a playoff spot on Thursday, beating Colorado in regulation, 3-2.

Theyve already played without him and theyve had some success, McLellan said.
Paging Patrick Marleau: One player the Sharks would like to get going is Patrick Marleau. The forward has just one goal in his last 14 games, and said recently that the opportunities are there, but hes just not burying them.

McLellan addressed it this morning.

He is getting chances. I think theres been times in the past where his scoring has dried up a little bit and he hasnt been getting chances. Youre wondering what hes thinking or what hes doing. In this situation he has been getting some opportunities five-on-five and the power play, said the head coach.

Theres no doubt that hes due. When he gets the one, he always scores in bunches so thats a good sign for us, but lets get the one first.
Odds and ends: The Coyotes and Sharks are both 4-3-3 in their last 10 games. Phoenixs leading goal-scorer Radim Vrbata hasnt found the back of the net in 12 straight games. Ray Whitney leads the Coyotes with 70 points (23g, 47a), and has points in 23 of his last 27 games. Joe Thornton has 19 goals and 59 points in 55 career games versus the Coyotes.

Rewind: Sharks get the bounces in imperfect win against Hurricanes

Rewind: Sharks get the bounces in imperfect win against Hurricanes

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ performance over the Hurricanes on Saturday night at SAP Center won’t be one that the team re-watches and reflects back upon as a model for how they want to perform.

Still, after deserving better in last Wednesday’s loss to Ottawa, and maybe even Friday’s defeat to the rival Ducks, there was a sense that the 4-3 win was essentially an evening out of their recent luck. San Jose had just 20 shots on goal, tying their season low, but four of them beat Cam Ward. That includes the second period when their shooting percentage was a lofty 50 percent (four shots, two goals).

“It’s good to see the puck go in for a few guys,” Joe Pavelski said. “The bounces – that’s why you just have to keep playing. I would have thought we would have won the other two games before this one.”

Pete DeBoer said: “I think when you look at the week, out of the three games we played, it was probably our poorest of the three. But we found a way to win, and the other two we lost, maybe we deserved better. That's hockey.”

After falling behind 2-0 in each of their last two games, the Sharks jumped on the Hurricanes just 12 seconds in when Patrick Marleau scored on a two-on-one with Joe Thornton.

Aaron Dell was surely chuffed after that one. In a previous start against Carolina on Nov. 15, the first-year backup stood on his head but got no support in a 1-0 loss.

“It’s a good feeling to get one right away,” Dell said.

The difference in the game was the Sharks’ pair of second period goals, after they had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 wiped away. Logan Couture’s redirection of a Brent Burns shot put San Jose ahead to stay, 3-2, while Kevin Labanc’s second goal in as many nights on the rebound of a Dylan DeMelo blast was the necessary insurance, and the game-winner.

Labanc now has three goals in his last five games, generating the type of offense that was expected from others on the team, but just hasn’t come.

“It’s a confidence booster, that’s for sure,” Labanc said of scoring in consecutive games. “It’s just momentum, and you ride with it. You just keep going, and whatever opportunities come by you, you’ve just got to make sure it goes in the net.”

DeBoer said: "For a team that's had trouble scoring, he's one guy that's consistently scored for us. The puck follows him around. … He's done a great job, and he's a hard guy to remove from the lineup just because of how he's playing and how he's contributing.”

At the end of a three-game California road trip, Carolina pushed hard to start the third down 4-2. Derek Ryan’s power play goal brought the ‘Canes back to within one, and the way the ice was tilted over those first four minutes, it looked like the Sharks might be in trouble.

Instead, they buckled down in the defensive zone despite missing defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is “day-to-day” with a lower body injury after leaving in the second period, according to DeBoer.

"They have a lot of talented guys on the team that can make plays,” said Paul Martin, who got the most fortuitous bounce of the night when his first period slap shot went in off of defenseman Brett Pesce's skate. “For us, it was just trying to find a way to win at that point, take care of our own zone, and Deller made some big key saves when we needed them."

Dell’s biggest stop came with about 20 seconds left, when he challenged Jeff Skinner on a rebound try – one of 11 shots for the Hurricanes forward – and saw the backhander hit him in the chest. He’s now 3-1 in his nascent NHL career.

“The last minute six-on-five is always a really, really long minute,” Dell said. “I think we played it pretty well.”

Carolina had plenty of zone time over the final two minutes with Ward pulled for an extra attacker. But this time, it was the Sharks’ opponent that never got that necessary bounce.

Instant Replay: Sharks make most of opportunities in win over 'Canes

Instant Replay: Sharks make most of opportunities in win over 'Canes

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – After a disappointing defeat less than 24 hours earlier, and with a four-game road trip on the horizon, the Sharks could have overlooked Carolina on Saturday night at SAP Center.

Although it wasn’t their cleanest game, and they managed just 20 shots on goal, the Sharks got past the Hurricanes, 4-3. San Jose’s modest two-game losing streak came to an end.

Twice the Sharks took a one-goal lead, and twice the Hurricanes responded. At 11:02 of the second period, Joakim Nordstrom’s shorthanded goal on a partial breakaway knotted the score at 2-2.

The Sharks tallied a pair of scores to take a 4-2 lead into the dressing room at the second intermission, though. Logan Couture redirected a Brent Burns wrist shot at 12:18, and less than two minutes later Kevin Labanc smacked in the rebound of a Dylan DeMelo shot off of Cam Ward’s pad at 14:10.

Carolina got back to within 4-3 in the third period, taking advantage of an ill-advised cross-checking minor on Brenden Dillon. Derek Ryan was left alone in front of the net, and slipped a shot through Aaron Dell’s five-hole at 3:42.

Carolina pulled Ward for the extra attacker with about two minutes to go, and Dell made a key save on a Jeff Skinner rebound with 20 seconds left to preserve the win.

San Jose beat Carolina for just the fifth time in the past 15 meetings (5-8-2). The Hurricanes won the only other matchup on Nov. 15, 1-0.

There was a flurry of goals early.

The Sharks opened the scoring just 12 seconds into the game, when Patrick Marleau finished off a two-on-one rush with Joe Thornton. Carolina responded shortly after that on Lee Stempniak’s power play goal at 1:59, but the Sharks reclaimed the lead when Paul Martin’s point shot nicked Brett Pesce’s skate and fluttered through Ward at 3:14.

The Sharks lost Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the second period. The defenseman left for a stretch in the middle frame, returned for a shift, but did not play at all after that.

Carolina went 1-1-1 on its three-game road trip through California.

The Sharks completed a stretch of eight home games out of 10, and begin a four-game road trip in Toronto on Tuesday.

Special teams

The Sharks went 0-for-1 on the power play, going up against the league’s best penalty kill.

Carolina finished 2-for-2. San Jose is just 23-for-32 on the PK in its last 12 games (71.8 percent).

In goal

Dell was making his fourth start of the season, getting both Carolina games while the other two were against the Islanders. He improved to 3-1 on the season with 30 saves.

Ward took the loss, allowing four goals on 20 shots goals. It was just his second loss to the Sharks in his career in eight decisions (6-2-0).

Lineup

David Schlemko missed his third straight game with a right ankle injury. Matt Nieto, a scratch for the previous five games, replaced Micheal Haley on the fourth line.

Burns’ three-game goal-scoring streak was halted.

Up next

The Sharks will visit Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Chicago on their upcoming roadie, playing four games in six nights, before returning home to host Calgary on Dec. 20.