Although the playoff fate of the Phoenix Coyotes was decided one night prior, playing out the season is a must. The Coyotes will watch the playoffs from the couch for the second year in a row after failing to win an April game.
Having two meaningless games for a Coyotes team with higher expectations is demoralizing, but it provides an opportunity for young players to shine and for veterans to secure a roster spot for next season.
No player embodied the playing for next season mantra more than starting goaltender Mark Visentin, who made his NHL debut on Saturday. It took only 10 seconds for Visentin to make his first NHL save, a wrist shot from Partick Marleau.
Unfortunately for the 21-year-old goalie, he looked his age - young and inexperienced.
San Jose's Joe Pavelski beat him twice in the first period, and the Sharks beat him three times in total on 32 shots en route to a 3-2 victory on Saturday night.
"It was a fun experience," Visentin said. "I shouldn't say fun, I was having fun at times, it sucks losing but I think for me it was a tough first period, I definitely felt the jitters out there but I thought the team did a great job coming back in the second, definitely helped me feel more comfortable out there.
It was a loss that meant little for the Coyotes in the standings, but marked their seventh consecutive defeat and continued their winless April.
Saturday night's game featured a youthful lineup that included Connor Murphy, Brandon Gormley and Visentin. It was an opportunity to make an impression months before training camp opens.
"You had young guys out there and you start with Visentin, he looked a little jittery early, but then he settled in and second and third period. I thought he was solid, that's good to see. Gormley and Murphy played significant minutes, and it's good to see them play," coach Dave Tippett said.
The infusion of youth brought some energy to the team, but the veterans just went through the motions to begin the game.
While the lack of motivation obviously played a part, the Coyotes did not have a strong start.
With Paul Bissonnette in the box for slashing, Pavelski netted his 40th goal of the season on a simple wrist shot that beat Visentin low blocker. Visentin was caught slightly out of position and was unable to make a save expected of an NHL goalie.
The Big Pavelski was not done, however, as he scored his 41st of the season just over six minutes later on a slap shot from the left faceoff circle. Again, Visentin appeared to struggle to adjust to the speed and strength of NHL talent, as he was slow moving to his right as the puck squeaked by him blocker side.
However, Phoenix played a strong middle period and halved the Sharks' lead. Mike Ribeiro, yes Mike Ribeiro, ended his 12-game goalless drought to put the Coyotes on the board. The much maligned forward quietly crept from the left faceoff circle to Antti Niemi's right before smacking in a Radim Vrbata pass for his 16th goal of the season.
An action-packed start to the third period saw each team score a goal in the first 44 seconds.
Kyle Chipchura threw the puck out from behind his own net right to Dan Boyle. Logan Couture tipped Boyle's shot between his legs and past Visentin 13 seconds into the period.
But, Chipchura giveth after Chipchura taketh away.
Making up for the previous lapse in judgement, Chipchura dug the puck off the side boards and fed Shane Doan, who one-timed the puck past Niemi for his 22nd goal of the season at the 44 second mark.
Phoenix played a strong third period but could not put a third goal past Niemi.
The Coyotes have one last opportunity to end their losing streak on Sunday against the team that beat them out for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars.
Our Three Stars of the Game
1. Joe Pavelski - A pair of goals from the now 40+ goal scorer.
2. Dan Boyle - Two assists for the defenseman.
3. Shane Doan - Goal and all-around solid game from the captain.
The puck will drop on the final game of the season Sunday night at 6 p.m. against the Stars.