Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for


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 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.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines


Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.

Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks


Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks


SAN JOSE — Roberto Luongo made 35 saves for his 74th career shutout and the Florida Panthers blanked the San Jose Sharks 2-0 Thursday night on goals by Colton Sceviour and Nick Bjugstad.

Florida coach Bob Boughner won in his return to San Jose. He served as an assistant coach for the Sharks the last two years.

Luongo earned his first shutout of the season and first in 32 games against San Jose.

Martin Jones was nearly as good for the Sharks. He stopped 26 shots, but that wasn't enough to keep the Panthers from winning for the seventh time in their last eight trips to San Jose.

Sharks defenseman Tim Heed had a goal disallowed on a coach's challenge a little less than five minutes into the second period. Replays showed he came into contact with the puck just behind the blue line, making the play offside.

San Jose had another goal overturned after a replay review. Brent Burns took a hard shot that Luongo nearly caught but couldn't handle and it bounced along his pads. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was one of three Sharks trying to poke at the puck and he used his stick to push both the puck and Luongo's pad into the net.

Sceviour scored a minute into the second after digging out the puck along the boards behind the net. He skated around the cage and poked a shot that hit Jones' pads. He took a second shot that got over the goalie's pads and went in.

Sceviour has four points in six games since returning from injury. He had two points in his first six games this season.

The Panthers, who have won three of four, added an insurance goal with less than eight minutes remaining. Radim Vrbata intercepted a pass in the Sharks zone and played it to Jamie McGinn, who got Jones to commit before dishing to Bjugstad for the score.

NOTES: Panthers C Michael Haley received a warm ovation from Sharks fans. He played in San Jose the last couple of years. ... Sharks D Paul Martin missed his 15th game with a lower-body injury, though he has been skating pain-free for the past two weeks. ... Florida center Vincent Trocheck has 12 points in his last 10 games. ... The Sharks have not scored on their past 15 power plays.


Panthers: At the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Sharks: Host the Boston Bruins on Saturday.