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San Jose Sharks @ Phoenix Coyotes preview: Pacific Division spectacular

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Tonight the Coyotes face the San Jose Sharks. Can they eke out a win?

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Phoenix Coyotes only went 1-2-2 on their Eastern Canada roadtrip, the team has started to more closely resemble the Coyotes of Dave Tippett's tenure. Tonight's game against the San Jose Sharks will be a very good test of their improvement.

Teams at a Glance

San Jose Sharks Phoenix Coyotes
Points 52 (3rd Pacific) 45 (5th Pacific)
Goals Per Game 3.14 (4th) 2.97 (6th)
Goals Against Per Game 2.40 (10th) 2.97 (25th)
Power Play Percentage 18.4% (14th) 19.8% (9th)
Penalty Kill Percentage 82.8% (11th) 78.8% (25th)

San Jose Sharks

After a white-hot start to the season, the Sharks have lost some ground to the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. San Jose is just 4-5-1 in their past ten, and are not the same team on the road versus at home. While their home record is a staggering 13-1-3, they are just 10-7-3 away from the SAP Center.

As has been the case for several years now, the Sharks are led by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski, who are all 1st, 2nd, and 3rd on the team in points, respectively. Beyond them, the Sharks are getting contributions from emerging star Logan Couture, defenseman turned forward Brent Burns, and until recently, rookie phenom Tomas Hertl. The Sharks are absolutely loaded on offense, and are respectable on defense as well.

For more on the San Jose Sharks, be sure to check out Fear The Fin.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes made some progress on the road, despite a less than stellar 1-2-2 record. Phoenix did not surrender more than three goals at any point during the trip, and Mike Smith appears to be settling in once again. But nobody may have enjoyed the time in the Eastern Conference more than Antoine Vermette. Vermette played 20+ minutes in three out of the team's four road games, and scored a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators.

Unfortunately, the Coyotes still have two nagging injury problems that even the break couldn't solve. Zbynek Michalek was lost to the injury bug shortly after returning, and Shane Doan continues to battle Rocky Mountain Fever. As he leads the team in power play goals with six, Doan is a big part of the Coyotes' offense that will be lacking for the foreseeable future.

Keys to the Game

  • Avoid the Track Meet - San Jose has a ton of weapons on offense. If the Coyotes let them dictate the pace of the game, they are going to be hard pressed to keep them off the score sheet.
  • Stay Aggressive - Phoenix likely cost themselves a point in Buffalo by sitting back in the third and letting the Sabres come to them. The Coyotes have to keep the offensive pressure up and punish the Sharks for any defensive lapses if they have a lead.
  • Feed off the Crowd - Tonight's game is going to be a sellout, and there are likely a lot of out-of-towners and relatively new fans who are interested in seeing what Coyotes hockey is all about. Put on a show for them.

Players to Watch

Logan Couture

#39 / Center / San Jose Sharks



Mar 28, 1989

G A P +/- PIM
2013 - Logan Couture 10 20 30 10 12

Logan Couture is good. Very good. And at 23 years old, he will continue to be good for a while.

Rostislav Klesla

#16 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes



Mar 21, 1982

G A P +/- PIM
2013 - Rostislav Klesla 1 3 4 -3 10

To the surprise of many Coyotes fans, Rostislav Klesla received a temporary demotion to the AHL earlier in the season to find his game again. Now he's back, and with Michalek out for a while, he will be needed to shore up the Coyotes' back end.

Projected Starting Goaltenders

Antti Niemi

#31 / Goalie / San Jose Sharks



Aug 29, 1983

2013 - Antti Niemi 32 1906 19 7 6 75 2.36 852 777 .912 2

Antti Niemi started in 43 of 48 games in the shortened season last year, and 68 of 82 in the season before that. With three days off, it's a fairly safe bet that Niemi will start this one too.

Mike Smith

#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes



Mar 22, 1982

2013 - Mike Smith 31 1822 15 8 7 86 2.83 1000 914 .914 0

No goaltender has seen more shots or made more saves than Mike Smith has this season. Unfortunately, the heavy workload is causing problems for the Team Canada hopeful.

Injury Report

Thanks to a wayward knee by Los Angeles Kings captain and Coyotes villain Dustin Brown, the Sharks will not have electrifying rookie Tomas Hertl (knee) until some time in mid-January. He will join former Coyote Raffi Torres (knee) and Adam Burish (lower body) on IR.

The Coyotes only have a few injuries to speak of, but they are key ones. Zbynek Michalek (lower body) is on IR, and captain Shane Doan (Rocky Mountain Fever) is out with no timetable for his return.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game begins at 7 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on KTVK or listen to the game on KMVP 860 AM.