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San Jose Sharks @ Phoenix Coyotes Preview: Sinking Ship

The Coyotes' playoff chances are hanging by a thread. What do they need to do against the Sharks to keep them alive?

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Adversity supposedly is the true test of character. When it comes to on-ice results, the Phoenix Coyotes are about to endure a real crucible. With only seven games left to play and three teams standing in the way of a fourth consecutive playoff berth, the Phoenix Coyotes are going to need to be near perfect down the stretch to even be in a position to play for the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, several tough tests await them, the first of which will be tonight's game against the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose has been the streakiest team in the NHL this year. They jumped out of the gate to an impressive 7-0-0 start in January, then went winless in seven straight immediately afterwards. To end the month of March, the Sharks then went on an eight game points streak to vault them up the standings to 5th place with 49 points. Despite their hot-and-cold nature, one thing Coyotes fans can take solace in is their relatively dismal road record. They are an astonishing 14-1-5 at HP Pavillion, but are 7-12-2 away from home. Since the Coyotes will play the Sharks twice at home in the next two weeks, they would love for that trend to continue.

The Coyotes have seemingly found their scoring touch at home; in each of their past three home games, they've scored at least three. They will need to repeat that performance tonight to get a much needed two points.

Five For Winning

1. Stop Giving Up Late Goals. All three of Calgary's goals in the last game came in the last two minutes of the period. That absolutely cannot happen.

2. Get in Front. Antti Niemi is one of the best lateral goalies in the NHL today. The easiest way to beat him is ensure he never sees the puck.

3. Keep the Penalty Box Empty. The Coyotes did a pretty good job of staying out of the penalty box against the Flames. The easiest way for the penalty kill unit to finish the game with a clean sheet is for them to not have anything to do.

4. Keep the Crease Clear. Mike Smith has played extremely well recently, but he needs as much help as possible. If the Coyotes can clear out any rebounds he might give up, Smitty should be able to take care of the rest.

5. Two Points. Each regular season game is pretty much an elimination game at this point. San Jose is relatively secure in the playoffs, Phoenix isn't. Play with some desperation and get two points.

Players to Watch

Raffi Torres

#13 / Left Wing / San Jose Sharks



Oct 08, 1981

G A P +/- PIM
2012 - Raffi Torres 5 9 14 -1 15

Raffi Torres will make his return to the Valley of the Sun since being dealt at the trade deadline. He's the kind of player that can really mix it up physically, so everyone on the ice will need to be aware of where he is.

Radim Vrbata

#17 / Right Wing / Phoenix Coyotes



Jun 13, 1981

G A P +/- PIM
2012 - Radim Vrbata 7 14 21 2 12

Vrbata has done a pretty good job putting up points since returning from injury, but unfortunately he still has twice as many assists as goals. The Coyotes need him lighting the lamp more often down the stretch.

Projected Starting Goaltenders

Antti Niemi

#31 / Goalie / San Jose Sharks



Aug 29, 1983

2012 - Antti Niemi 37 2219 20 10 81 2.19 1039 958 .922 3

Niemi has started nearly every game for the Sharks this season, and his numbers are deserving of serious Vezina Trophy consideration. The Coyotes are going to need to be good to beat him.

Mike Smith

#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes



Mar 22, 1982

2012 - Mike Smith 30 1708 13 11 74 2.60 816 742 .909 5

As usual the Coyotes are relying on Mike Smith to get them into the playoffs, and as usual he is giving them a chance to win every night. If he could get some help on offense his numbers would probably be much better.

Injury Report

Only one injury to report for San Jose. Defenseman Scott Hannan is out indefinitely with neck problems.

For the Coyotes, Lauri Korpikoski (Upper Body) remains the only injury, and is unlikely to play tonight.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game is at 7 PM at Arena in Glendale. If you can't make it out, you can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or tune into XTRA 910 AM.