It's games like tonight that make me even more frustrated as a Phoenix Coyotes fan. The San Jose Sharks are one of the best teams in the league, sit atop the Pacific Division 12 points in front of the 'Yotes coming in to tonight's game. So it's easy to expect the team that just got shellacked by Anaheim a few nights back to get beat up pretty good. Not tonight, as the Coyotes brought their A game to Glendale and matched everything the Sharks threw at them.
Huge game from Lauri Korpikoski who scored two on the night, including the game winner early in the third period. Korpi has been a bit silent in recent weeks, but he was making his presence known all over the ice tonight on a new unit with Boyd Gordon and Shane Doan, who each had two assists on the goals by Korpikoski. Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal also found the back of the net and added assists on the other's goal with Hanzal scoring a fluky bounce goal off the stick of Brent Burns in the final minute of the second period and Vrbata adding an empty netter - Ray Whitney assisted on both goals.
Raffi Torres scored perhaps the most important goal of the net, beating Antti Niemi with a knucle puck shot to tie the game at 1 less than a minute after Logan Couture had given the Sharks the 1-0 advantage early in the second period following a scoreless opening twenty minutes. After Korpikoski's first goal gave the Coyotes a 2-1 advantage, the Sharks would respond on the power play with a goal from Jamie McGinn to tie the score. A late goal by Patrick Marleau with Niemi on the bench brought the Sharks within one, but that was as close as they would come.
The Coyotes improve to 2-1 against the Sharks this year and put forth one of their most solid all around games of the season in front of a large (relatively speaking - just under 13,000) buck bash crowd. With more efforts like this and fewer stinkers like we saw against Anaheim, they could still take a playoff spot this year.
Five For Winning
1. Stay Disciplined. After the game against the Ducks, the Coyotes are due some love from the referees. Let's see if they can actually take advantage of that by getting a number of power play opportunities. They only took two penalties, but weren't exactly getting showered with love by the referees tonight. The three power plays they drew were fairly blatant penalties by the Sharks.
2. Cash in on the Man Advantage. Getting the power plays will be a bit meaningless unless they can convert. Considering that one of San Jose's few weaknesses is their 28th ranked penalty kill, this could be essential for a Coyotes victory. There was some decent pressure at times, but no power play goals on three opportunities tonight.
3. Stop the Easy Ones. Mike Smith is having a rough go of things recently, but it's not the plays that you expect to give him difficulty that are - it's fairly routine shots and plays where he is getting himself out of position. The Coyotes need him to play like a world beater for a few weeks. Wouldn't classify any of the Sharks goals as softies tonight. Smith looked good throughout, including his attempt at an empty netter that just drifted wide of the Sharks net.
4. Where's the D? The problems in their own zone have been troublesome, but the Coyotes also need to see their defensemen jumping into plays and lighting the lamp a bit. Since David Schlemko went down, it seems that this is not happening too often. I can't even remember the last time Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored a goal. No d-men found the back of the net (Michal Rozsival had an assist), but it did seem as if Keith Yandle and OEL were making more of an effort to get involved in the offense.
5. Play like it's April. The Coyotes need to play with the mentality that it's win or go home, and the Sharks are a terrible playoff team...so let's combine these two things and create a hard fought playoff-style victory for the 'yotes. Coyotes definitely had a do or die attitude on the ice and made the Sharks work for every inch of ice.
Our Three Best Players on the Ice (because I'm sick of linking to some team from Dallas)
1. Lauri Korpikoski - two goals, and was just too exhausted to stay on the ice for a chance for the hatty, despite Doan trying to feed him the puck.
2. Martin Hanzal - goal and an assist and did a great job of just taking away time and space from the top Sharks offensive players.
3. Ray Whitney - two assists, controlling the play all over the ice, making the power play somewhat competent at times. If we could isolate a camera on one Coyotes player every game, it would be the Wizard.
Comment of the Night
Everyone's favorite team, the Detroit Red Wings are back in town on Monday night for an early, nationally televised tilt on the NBC Sports Network. It will be the return of Dave Strader to the place he called home for several years. For the Coyotes it is the start of a pretty tough week with a game at Dallas, and then back home against Calgary and Chicago as the week wraps up. The Red Wings are busy getting run over by the Sam Gagner freight train last time I checked tonight, but they are sitting at or near the top of the entire NHL and they always bring a tough game against the Coyotes. They won in a shootout the last two match-ups and have a 3-0-0 record against the Coyotes this year although the 'Yotes have taken 2 points in the games. The Coyotes need the pair of points and coming up just short again simply will not do.