SAN JOSE – The Coyotes are buried in last place in the Pacific Division, but that shouldn’t mean a whole lot to the Sharks as they prepare for the season series finale on Saturday at Gila River Arena.
Arizona has a 3-0-1 record against San Jose so far, including a 3-2 shootout win at SAP Center on Feb. 4. In that game, the Coyotes ramped up the physicality and seemed to be targeting some of the Sharks’ younger players like Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl. It’s safe to assume that the Coyotes, 4-1-1 in their last six games, will try and employ similar tactics on Saturday.
“Any time you play a team a good amount throughout the year there’s going to be a little chippiness,” said Micheal Haley, who has 12 penalty minutes and a pair of fighting majors against Arizona this season. “I don’t know if they were targeting [our young players], but they were definitely a little more chippier than usual.”
Pete DeBoer said: “Obviously, they play us well [and] they play us hard. We know that. … We’re deep enough into this with them that we know what to expect.”
San Jose has just one win in its last six games (1-1-4). Defensive blunders and mental miscues cost them on Wednesday in a 6-5 overtime loss to Florida at SAP Center.
“We were soft in coverage, we turned the puck over too much, we were loose – that’s probably the best word for it,” DeBoer said. “Historically, we’ve always been able to respond to those type of games and fix it. But, that’s on us to do that.”
The Sharks will likely have one new player in the lineup for Arizona, as former first round pick Nikolay Goldobin skated on the third line in Friday’s practice with Hertl and Joel Ward. Meier had been there previously, but he was reassigned to the Barracuda.
Goldobin has not played an NHL game since Nov. 22, 2015. He will be the seventh forward that started the season on the Barracuda to play a game with the Sharks.
The Sharks have just two games left before the bye week from Feb. 20-24, including Sunday’s home game with Boston. Although wins have been hard to come by lately, they’ve gained a point in 13 of their last 15 overall (9-2-4).
They maintain a four-point lead in the division over Anaheim and Edmonton, with 24 games remaining for all three.
“These last two games are important, we can really separate ourselves from the other two teams in our division,” Joe Thornton said. “It’s a big two games before we get this rest.”
DeBoer said: “We’ve worked really hard to build a little bit of a lead here in the division, but it’s small. We talked today that at the end of the weekend we could be up six or eight, or we could be even with somebody going into the break.”
Aaron Dell will start in net, his second in a week after he stole the Sharks a point last Saturday in a 2-1 overtime loss in Philadelphia.
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Meier is expected to play for the Barracuda on Friday night in Stockton, as the Sharks’ AHL affiliate goes for its 10th straight win.
What was the message to Meier, who has just one point in his last 12 NHL games?
“Timo has just got to work on some things,” DeBoer said. “Like all young guys, I think there’s a lot to like, and there’s also some things you have to continue to work at to be a consistent contributor up here. We love the potential of him and I love a lot of what I’ve seen, but there’s still a lot of work [to do], like a lot of young guys.”