Sharks return from the break for battle with gritty Coyotes
Because of the CBA-mandated three days off for Christmas, the Sharks had to fly to Phoenix at 6:30 a.m. (USATSI)
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PHOENIX -- It’s an atypical game day routine, to be sure.
Thanks to the CBA-mandated three days off for Christmas, the Sharks were forced to fly to Phoenix on Friday morning, rather than the standard night before the game. The team charter left San Jose shortly after 6:30 a.m., and the players went directly to Jobing.com Arena for their morning skate.
That skate was a little more intense than usual, as the Sharks coaching staff apparently wanted to get the players’ legs moving after they had not been on the ice since Monday’s 5-4 win over Colorado.
“That was the hardest part, the early wakeup call coming here,” Joe Thornton said. “It is what it is. … Got a little nap on the plane, and ready to go.”
Jason Demers said: “We looked pretty good out there today, and I think it was good for guys to get three days off. I don’t think there will be too much jet lag.”
Of course, Phoenix will be going through the same thing. The Coyotes played on Monday in Buffalo and lost in overtime, 2-1, on the now infamous Mike Smith butt-goal.
“I think at this point, before we play the game, we’ve handled it well,” Todd McLellan said, after the skate concluded. “We got in early enough, we had a good skate this morning. As far as the turkey, and the legs, and the lungs, and the polish or rust, it’s the same for everybody. They all had three days off.
“It will be the team that can find their game the quickest and maintain it the longest that probably will have the best chance at success.”
The Sharks will face Smith in net. The 31-year-old is 8-4-1 in his career against San Jose, with an impressive 2.07 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and four shutouts.
The strategy through the first two games against him this season has been to get as much rubber to the net as possible. San Jose fired 51 and 50 shots at Smith in the first two games of the season series, a 4-1 win on Oct. 5 and a 3-2 shootout loss about month later. Both were at SAP Center.
Thornton said: “Just get as many pucks to the net, and try to wear him down. Get a lot of traffic in front of him. But, you know you’re going to have to work for your goals. He’s a top-end goalie.”
“They don’t give up many second and third chances,” Demers said.
San Jose will be trying to improve on its middling 10-7-3 record away from home. The Sharks have lost five of their last six road games, all in regulation.
The power play has been particularly brutal on the road, failing to score on its last 27 five-on-four chances. A power play goal in Toronto on Dec. 3 came on a two-man advantage.
A pair of new power play units each generated a goal against the Avalanche on Monday.
“I think we really emphasize that we have enough skill to score on our power play every time, it’s just a question of will, and how much we want to outwork the penalty kill,” said Demers, who had one of the two goals.
Phoenix remains without captain Shane Doan, who will miss his ninth straight game while battling Rocky Mountain spotted fever. McLellan was asked how Doan’s absence affects the Coyotes.
“I think if we lost our captain and our leader, the guy that kind of drives the bus, it would be a hole to fill,” McLellan said. “But, they’ve been playing without him and they’ve been competitive in every game. They’ve been able to overcome it.”
The Sharks’ coach is being generous, though, as Phoenix has scored just one goal in four of its last five games, going 1-2-2 over that span.
San Jose will be trying for its third straight win, the previous two of which have come in a shootout.
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Antti Niemi will be in net for the Sharks. He’s 10-4-3 with a 2.02 GAA and .931 SP in 18 career games against the Coyotes.
Marty Havlat did not make the trip with a lower body injury. He’ll miss his second straight game.
[RELATED: Havlat out with lower body injury]