PHOENIX Thursday nights Sharks-Coyotes game is the latest in the string of most important games the season, and head coach Todd McLellan needs everyone on board.
Thats something he didnt have in Wednesdays 3-1 loss to Anaheim, which sent the Sharks tumbling from the Pacific Division lead and third seed in the conference to eighth place, just a point ahead of tonights opponent.
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At this time of the year you cant miss bodies. You have jerseys, you have bodies that are wearing jerseys, but if thats all they are, then youre going to be short, said the head coach on Thursday morning. We had a couple key people that I thought could have produced more and given us a little bit more on Wednesday and well need that from them tonight.
The coach, as is his standard style, didnt want to name any names, though guys like Patrick Marleau, Marty Havlat and Brent Burns were hardly noticeable. Instead, he wanted to focus on what has to be done to beat what will be a well rested, rejuvenated and perhaps very healthy Coyotes lineup.
The start is going to be real important, McLellan said. Were going to have to be very conscious of what we do the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game. They are a much different team when they play with the lead.
The Coyotes will be getting captain Shane Doan back now that hes done serving a three-game suspension. Leading goal-scorer Radim Vrbata is possible to return from a two-game absence, and big-minute defenseman Adrian Aucoin could also play after missing the last six games.
Its good to get a lot of guys back, coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
The Sharks, meanwhile, will be without defenseman Douglas Murray, who suffered a lower body injury in the first period of Wednesdays loss in Anaheim. Colin White will be back in for the Sharks on defense.
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Road weary: The Sharks are just 1-5-2 in their last eight road games. McLellan was asked if he could pinpoint a reason why.
We havent scored enough goals on the road, in my opinion, he said. A lot of the games have been 2-1, 1-0, 3-2. Weve got to get some offense. Our defensive play on the road has not been bad.
San Jose has 16 goals in its last eight road games. Of the Sharks final five games, three are away from HP Pavilion. The team concludes its season with a home-and-home against Dallas and another against Los Angeles.
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The Sharks will also be trying to beat a Coyotes team that hasnt played since Sunday, while San Jose is playing for the second time in two nights.
Sometimes when you play back-to-back that second game youre a little looser, if you will. You just flow right into that next game, and that can work in your favor, if you get off to the start that you want to have. Thats what well be looking for, McLellan said.
The Sharks will be trying to put their loss to the Ducks behind them, quickly.
Thats how it is in the playoffs. You have to quickly move on, learn your lesson, take what you can from losses, or even from wins, and move on, Marleau said.
Embrace the pressure: With another playoff appearance far from a sure thing at this point, McLellan would like to see his club embrace the situation they find themselves in. The playoffs have essentially started already.
This is professional sport, its not just hockey. The really elite players and elite teams thrive in these situations, and weve done it before, McLellan said. Weve been through first rounds, weve been through second rounds. Theres no more pressure than playing in Game 7 at home against the Detroit Red Wings last year when we responded.
If we take that same approach and we have that same excitement about potential success, well give ourselves a chance.
TJ Galiardi is one player taking that to heart.
I think theres something wrong with you if you dont enjoy it. This is what we pay for, he said. We wish we were in a playoff position already, but I think that well be better for it.
Odds and ends: Phoenix is 3-1-1 against San Jose in the season series, although the Sharks won in a shootout at HP Pavilion on March 24, 4-3. Ryane Clowe has two goals in the last two games. Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris will be honored before the game for playing in his 1000th NHL game last week. ... Antti Niemi will start in net.