Sharks open new season with high expectations
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is 6-0-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average, .971 save percentage and four shutouts against the Sharks. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
INSIDE THE MATCHUP
- The Sharks are 16-2-3 in their last 21 home games against the Coyotes. San Jose has won via the shootout in four of their last nine home wins in the series.
- In their 4-1 season-opening win over the Rangers, Radim Vrbata scored the franchise's first hat trick in a season opener since Igor Korolev on October 7, 1995 against Dallas. Vrbata also had three goals in last season's finale against Anaheim.
- The Coyotes begin a season-long five-game road trip Saturday in San Jose. They finished up strong away from home last season, earning at least a point in five of their last six of the season (3-1-2).
- Last night, Shane Doan played his 1247th career game, all with the Coyotes franchise. It's the most games played by any active NHL player for one organization.
- After sweeping the Canucks in the 2013 playoffs, San Jose defeated them again in the season opener 4-1. Including postseason, the Sharks have won eight straight games over Vancouver.
- Last night, Tomas Hertl, 19, and Matt Nieto, 20, made their NHL debuts for San Jose, becoming the first two Sharks born after the franchise's first game on October 4, 1991. Hertl got his first career point with an assist.
SAN JOSE -- When Mike Smith signed a six-year, $34 million contract extension with the Phoenix Coyotes this offseason, he probably had an urge to send a thank you note to the Sharks organization.
The goaltender’s recent numbers against San Jose are downright scary. In his last seven starts, he’s 6-0-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average, .971 save percentage and four shutouts. He’ll try and backstop his club to its second straight win to start the season on Saturday night at SAP Center.
The Sharks will try and improve to 2-0 themselves, after Thursday’s 4-1 home win against Vancouver. Smith and the Coyotes figure to provide a tough test after they, too, started the season with a 4-1 victory against New York.
“They’re very disciplined. They play a hard game,” Logan Couture said. “They may not have the biggest names on that team, but they’re going to come in and they’re going to work. They win games by outworking teams.”
Todd McLellan said: “Their game management is exceptional, maybe the best in the league as far as not turning pucks over, penalties, shift length. You’ll never really see Phoenix beat themselves.”
San Jose isn’t overly focused on the Coyotes so early in the season; rather, it would like to make sure its own house is in order. McLellan said 70 percent of his game preparation for Saturday was on his Sharks, while 30 percent is about what he expects the Coyotes to do.
One player that could make Phoenix a more dangerous offensive team than the one that finished 21st in the league last year is Mike Ribeiro. Washington’s second-leading scorer in 2013, the 33-year-old offseason addition centers the Coyotes’ top line with Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker.
“He’s been a dominant player in our league for a long time,” McLellan said. “If somebody asked me to describe Mike Ribeiro, he can hold onto it and hold onto it and make plays. … It fits this team very well, because they activate their D all the time.”
Thursday’s win was encouraging in that the Sharks got goals from three different lines, one from a defenseman, and goaltender Antti Niemi picked up right where he left off after the best season of his career in 2013.
“We’re never going to be mistake free, so there’s some areas we need to work on, but the results were good,” McLellan said. “I felt like all of the players that dressed had a positive impact in some way or another.”
Joe Pavelski said: “I think the biggest thing was the energy we brought. We can’t have a letdown now.”
In order to prevent that letdown, getting to Smith is paramount.
“If we over-hype a goaltender because he’s played well against us, it isn’t going to do us any good,” Pavelski said. “We have to try and help our group, and find ways to beat him. He feels good playing against us, it’s our job to kind of turn the tide a little bit.”
* * *
John McCarthy will make his season debut in place of Matt Pelech, who was reassigned on Friday. It’s the only lineup change, as defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Adam Burish remain out.
Niemi, of course, will start in net. Last season against the Coyotes, he was 3-0-1 with a 1.20 GAA and .958 SP.