The Sharks traveled to the desert to kick off a home–and–home series against the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday night. The Coyotes had won 10 of their last 15 games with a 10-2-3 record, and were looking to secure a playoff berth with a win at home.
The Sharks knew they had to weather the storm early, as this weekend could either secure a fourth seed for the Coyotes or have them hitting the golf links early.
The fact that the Coyotes were a meager 0-5-3 against the Sharks in their last eight, and being outscored 17-7 in the four losses this year, it figured to be a tough game.
The Sharks stormed back against the 'Yotes but the quest to secure the second seed in the Western Conference failed as San Jose’s rally came up short in the 4-3 loss.
Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi would sit this game with undisclosed injuries, and as a result Todd McLellan had to dress seven defenseman and juggle their lines.
Although the Phoenix Coyotes did charge out of the gate, Ilya Bryzgalov seemed to be a completely different goaltender against the Sharks tonight. He was especially sharp halfway through the first period, when he robbed Torrey Mitchell on the odd man rush.
Andrew Ebbett opened the scoring with four minutes left, as a turnover along the boards lead to a 1-0 lead for the Coyotes at home. Bryzgalov again came up huge with about 10 seconds left to play denying Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell on consecutive shots.
Not to be outdone Antti Niemi would come up with three huge stops about four minutes into the second, and the save on Eric Belanger was just filthy.
Ian White would even the score showing his terrific hockey sense by faking the shot and then changing the angle on Bryzgalov. The shot from the point found it's way home at the 4:31 mark of the second period.
A lapse in defensive coverage allowed Ray Whitney to take back the lead on a feed from captain Shane Doan, and Niemi had no chance on this goal. Now up 2-1, San Jose pushed back but ran into some misfortune as the Coyotes added to their lead.
Bryzgalov would get some help from the cage as Joe Thornton’s shot off the post skipped by Dan Boyle and led to a Coyote breakaway. Radim Vrbata would shoot in the feed from Eric Belanger for the two-goal lead and and it was clear at that point that Phoenix had all the momentum.
The Coyotes took play to the Sharks for the remainder of the period, and Antti Niemi was again up to the task with several key saves. The third period fared no better for the Sharks, as Antti Niemi continued to frustrate the Coyotes despite some serious defensive lapses in the opening minutes.
Braun and Vlasic committed two costly miscommunication errors in the back-to-back scoring chances by Phoenix about three minutes in.
Shane Doan would tally his 20th of the season, a power-play goal just 30 seconds after Murray was called for holding, adding to Phoenix’s lead.
San Jose would answer as Joe Thornton knocked in his 1,000th point out of midair following at Douglas Murray snapshot from just above the right circle. And with two offsetting penalties, Dany Heatley unleashed a rocket of a slapshot home with just 3:39 remaining, drawing San Jose within a goal.
From then on Bryzgalov just shut the door as the Sharks just poured it on but couldn’t get the equalizer, falling to Phoenix 4-3. Antti Niemi recorded 22 saves in the loss, after sitting last game for the first time in 34 contests.
Congratulations to Captain Joe Thornton, the 78th player in NHL history to collect a 1000 points, in his 994th game. Scoring the goal against Phoenix provided the perfect bookend as his first point was of goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 3, 1997.
Ian White: He had a great game tonight and looked more comfortable with Niclas Wallin, scoring his first goal as a San Jose Shark. He had struggled a bit of late after a promising start, hopefully he can continue to build on tonight's game.
Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood: This line continues to show some awesome chemistry and is consistently generating scoring chances and turnovers. The Sharks have some awesome depth with this line playing the way it is, and if they can keep it up there’s no way they are not a factor come playoff time.
What didn’t work
Eager-Nichol-Desjardins: They had a rough night, as Desjardins missed this assignment on Ray Whitney, allowing the Coyotes to take back the lead. Nichol looked rusty and did not fare well along the boards, leading to some bad turnovers.
Power play: The power play looked disjointed tonight against the league’s fifth-worst penalty kill unit at a 78.6 percentage. While it’s just one game, the Sharks still own the third best power-play and the chances just weren’t there tonight.
What’s next: Coyote is again the main dish on Saturday, as Phoenix will carry their 22-12-3 road record to San Jose looking to put a dent in the Sharks’ 24-11-2 home record. With the season coming to a close, San Jose still sits a point above Detroit who face the Blackhawks on Sunday.