Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith made 42 saves as Mikkel Boedker, Michael Stone and Raffi Torres scored within a seven minute stretch of the second and third periods to give the desert dogs a 3-0 win over what may very well be a fading San Jose Sharks team. The win for Phoenix stopped their own five game winless streak while the Sharks with the loss have now not won in their last five games. The Sharks have one of the worst records in the NHL since the All Star break. Since a February 4th visit to the desert, also a 5-3 loss to the Coyotes, the Sharks are 3-12-3 in their last 18 games.
The Sharks played a rather dominant first period and even had some control of the game for a small portion of the second period but once again could find the back of the net if their season had depended on it (which incidentally it did and still does). Ever since the Sharks defeated Phoenix 6-3 on opening night back on October 8th, Phoenix has won the last three versus team teal. Two of those three Coyotes wins were by a 3-0 score with Smith posting both shutouts. Antti Niemi made 26 of 29 saves for the Sharks in net, however once again the effort by Niemi simply was not good enough. The Sharks with the loss have fallen below the cutoff line for the NHL post season, dropping to 9th place in the Western Conference Standings. If the Sharks have any aspirations of making this years’ post season playoffs, a lot is going to have to happen for team teal and they will likely also need some help. The Sharks season is quickly approaching the status of “A Season on the Brink” if it’s not there already.
The Game Recap:
The Mirage- The Sharks again as in the Dallas game two nights earlier came out firing on all cylinders and had the look of a team that just needed a few things to go their way to get out of this slide maybe once and for all. The Sharks attacked the Coyotes zone early and often, having a few early close calls that just did not make it into the net. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau would drill hard shots at Smith. Joe Pavelski attempted to score on a wrap around play however also had no luck against Smith. This was just in the first two minutes of play. Just a moment later Smith would also stop a breakaway chance by Daniel Winnick. The Sharks just four minutes into the game had a 6-0 shot advantage over the Coyotes who had a tough time with the team teal forecheck.
Niemi got a big test early on when Shane Doan had a breakaway off of a Sharks neutral zone turnover. Niemi not only was able to stuff Doan’s shot on goal but also block Torres’ follow up an he came in behind Doan. The Sharks would get a power play opportunity late in the opening period when Smith played the puck outside of the goalies’ trapezoid area and got whistled for an illegal play of the puck. The Sharks in the power play opportunity drilled five more shots on Smith, including two from Dan Boyle, one from Ryane Clowe, and also from Jason Demers and Marleau. However, despite their best efforts here the Sharks simply would not be rewarded. The Sharks had a 16-9 shot advantage for the first period, but when you don’t score it’s like finishing third in a beauty contest between two people.
Bone Dry- In the second period the Sharks would find maintaining pressure was going to get much harder as the Coyotes made entries into their defensive zone more difficult. This alone helped to reduce the number of team teal scoring opportunities, though the Coyotes themselves were still having some trouble early keeping the puck in the Sharks zone for any sustainable amount of time. Almost midway through the period the Sharks would get another chance on the power play as Keith Yandle was send to the penalty box for a slashing minor. The Coyotes penalty kill was much stronger here allowing only one shot on goal from Brent Burns. Even after the penalty kill Smith had to stop a point blank effort by Tommy Wingles.
Moments later the game would change in the Coyotes favor as Phoenix was establish a strong forecheck and hold the puck in the Sharks defensive zone. During this stretch, the Coyotes put several pucks on Niemi who made some good saves. However, the Coyotes assault on Niemi was only beginning after team teal’s goalie was forced to make two huge saves on Gilbert Brule. In addition, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Rostislav Klesla, Boedker and Stone all fired shots as the Sharks defensive zone had become a shooting gallery for the Coyotes. Finally, Stone fired a rocket from near the right point that bounced off of Niemi’s leg pad right to Boedker. From there Boedker immediately drilled a slap shot from the slot that beat Niemi. During this sequence the Sharks really never once came close to clearing the puck and the Coyotes momentum had built up significantly just before Boedker’s goal.
As the period was winding down the Coyotes started to assert their will on the Sharks who clearly were unnerved after the Coyotes had scored. Things unfortunately for team teal would only get infinitely worse as the Coyotes expanded their lead to two after Stone scored his first NHL goal. Stone was the beneficiary of a Yandle slap shot from the left point which Niemi had saved but lost the puck right afterward. Pouliot would seize the loose rubber biscuit and send a feed pass over to Stone who drilled in a slap shot that beat Niemi as many of his own teammates may have screened him out. The Sharks now trailed 2-0 and you had that sinking feeling that this wasn’t going to be the Sharks night either.
More Pain, No Gain- If the Sharks had any designs of a third period comeback, it didn’t take to long for team teal to be quickly slapped back into the reality of this game. A Sharks turnover deep in their defensive zone allowed the Coyotes Torres to score as he beat Niemi with an easy wrister just 39 seconds into the period. Now with a 3-0 lead and in complete control of the game, the Coyotes no longer worried about the Sharks attack and allowed team teal enough ice to come close to their defensive zone. When the Sharks did enter the Coyotes zone, any and all shots on goal were handled rather easily by Smith as team teal was soon no threat to them in the game. Former Shark Ray Whitney almost got into the score sheet himself on a penalty shot, only to see it hit the left post as Niemi was clearly beaten on that try too. As the night ended, the Coyotes left no doubt that at this juncture of the season they too along with about six other teams in the Western Conference had surpassed the Sharks, and not just in the standings either.
Game Analysis- At this point I feel it’s safe to start saying that the Sharks season is officially on the brink. Whatever strides where made Thursday night in Dallas were lost somewhere in the 2 hour flight back towards Arizona. If the Sharks had scored at least two goals in the first period and had taken control of the game when they had their chance, the story could very well be different tonight. Again, more missed opportunities hurt the Sharks. Once the Coyotes got rolling, they closed out the Sharks fairly quickly. It did not matter that Phoenix had gone 0-4-1 in it’s last five games before tonight. It didn’t even matter that the Sharks had 42 shots on goal tonight since many of the final 17 shots in the third period came in “garbage time” as Phoenix had the game well in hand. Though the Coyotes to me are not a favorite to win the Stanley Cup anytime soon, the Sharks “window of opportunity” appears to have closed if not slammed shut. That didn’t happen in this game, that very well may have happened when Kevin Bieksa drilled the game winning goal for Vancouver in Game 5 of last season’s Western Conference Final.
I feel at this point the Sharks at least mathematically could still make this post season. However there are a few teams that are ahead of them in the Western Conference who are playing a lot better than team teal is right now. The entire team is in probably the worst collective slump I’ve seen a team go though in many years. Nothing is bouncing the Sharks way, Niemi goes into games knowing he may have to get a shutout himself just to get the game to overtime. I honestly feel that the Sharks may have gotten stale as a team and all of the weight of lofty expectations may be finally crashing down on top of them. It is clear that if this team fails to make the post season, let alone get through even a round of the playoffs, the Sharks as an organization will have a lot of questions to answer internally. What looked very promising about four years ago now has the feel of something that has finally started to wear out. There are 15 games left and though anything can happen, the Sharks have a lot of work to do going forward and little time in which to do it. The Sharks will probably need some help along the way too, not exactly the position you want to be in this time of year.
SHARKS, WAKE UP!!! IT’S GETTING LATE!!!
The King Shark
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Blades of Teal: “The Final Word on San Jose Sharks Hockey”