Mar 24, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) saves a shot from Phoenix Coyotes left wing Ray Whitney (13) during shootouts at HP Pavilion. San Jose defeated Phoenix 4-3 in shootouts. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Sharks Survive Coyotes in Hard Headed 4-3 Overtime/Shootout Win...

Shootout goals from Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe plus key saves by Antti Niemi helped the San Jose Sharks to gain ground in the Western Conference playoff chase with a 4-3 victory of the Phoenix Coyotes. With the win the Sharks earned a desperately needed two points in the standings. However the Sharks gains in the standings would be minimal as some lackadaisical play at the end of the first period would end up giving Phoenix a point for their efforts as well. The team teal victory also moves the Sharks into a four-way tie for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference and are just a point out of first in the Pacific Division. Based on divisional tie breakers, the Sharks currently sit in 9th place in the Conference standings.

To go along with the shootout goals from Handzus and Clowe, Niemi made the two key saves he needed to make in the shootout turning away the Coyotes’ Mikkel Boedker and former Shark Ray Whitney. On the evening Niemi would make 24 saves plus the two in the shootout which were just as huge. Niemi’s counterpart Mike Smith was again tough on the Sharks as he was able to stonewall a lot of team teal scoring chances in making 29 saves of his own. Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Daniel Winnik all scored goals for team teal with Winnik’s tally coming at a time when the Sharks needed a psychological boost after giving up a pair of soft goals to Phoenix. The Coyotes were without their team leader Shane Doan who was in the middle of a three game league suspension.

The game itself was a back and fourth affair where the Sharks seemed to be fairly well focused one moment, and asleep at the switch in the next. The Sharks also took a bit of a beating in this one as well. In the second period Clowe got hit in the helmet with a Brent Burns slap shot. Fortunately Clowe was not injured and found himself having clearer sinuses as the result. In the third period Joe Thornton was almost the victim of involuntary amature dentistry. Not to pick on the officiating here, but in agreeing with Sharks Color Commentator Drew Remenda, the officials seemed to ignore a lot of calls including Thornton getting high-sticked in the third period (in front of two officials who clearly saw it). Overall just another night at the office for the Sharks.

Recapping Another Crazy Night at the Shark Tank:

A Hard Fought 19:59- The Sharks knew coming into this game with the Coyotes they were going to have their hands full. The Sharks would test the Coyotes’ Smith early and try to set up some pressure in the Phoenix zone but without much in the way of success. Meanwhile the Coyotes were patient early and would get a payoff deep into the team teal zone about six and a half minutes into the game. A strong forecheck started by long time Sharks nemesis Raffe Torres would result in a Daymond Langkow goal as he was able to wrist a puck past Niemi after a perfect feed pass from Gilbert Brule via Torres. Phoenix had a 1-0 lead and for a few moments there seemed to be a silent “uh oh” feeling going around the Shark Tank.

However as it turned out the Coyotes lead would be brief as the Sharks would soon jump on a Phoenix turnover inside of their defensive zone which resulted in the puck landing on the stick of the Sharks Captain. Thornton came up the slot then spotted Marleau to his left and made a perfect feed pass. Marleau took the pass and drilled the rubber biscuit past Smith to help team teal draw even with the desert dogs just a minute and a half after falling behind. The goal sparked some new energy into the Sharks who took the following face off and came back up ice and put Smith to work as Logan Couture drilled a hard slap shot that challenged the Coyotes’ net minder. Douglas Murray just moments later drilled a shot that was net bound and was only stopped by a reflex action by Smith. Follow up stuff in attempts by Tommy Wingles also were close but got turned away as well.

The Sharks however would continue to keep the pressure cooker on high and continue with a fairly decent forecheck for much of the period. Team teal would need to be patient and it soon would reward the Sharks with a payoff of it’s own. With just over two and a half minutes left in the period Thornton would prevent a Coyotes clearing attempt keeping things alive and cooking in the Phoenix defensive zone. Thornton was able to get away from two Coyotes defenders while getting the puck over towards Joe Pavelski. As Pavelski headed towards the Coyotes goal, he spotted Burns trailing the play and fed the rubber biscuit back over towards him. Burns upon receiving the puck wasted no time launching a hard slap shot that beat Smith to give team teal their first lead at 2-1. Just seconds after Burns’ goal Marleau almost made it a two goal game however Smith was on top of this scoring chance. Still the Sharks looked like they had the momentum and had Phoenix on their heels.

The Forgotten Final Second- One of the reason’s the Sharks have had a difficult time this season is a combination of things that have not gone their way. Some of those things happened because of a better team’s execution. Other times it was the Sharks looking like they were trying to decide who had who usually after witnessing an opponent score due to a lapse in defense. As the first period was winding down, the Sharks were trying to keep the Coyotes from crossing the blue line. Then team teal was trying to trap the puck into the corner to run out the clock. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, certainly not know for carelessness with the puck pushed the rubber biscuit towards the corner were three Coyotes had easy access to it. It would be Langkow who would retrieve the puck and quickly feed it over to Derek Morris. Apparently the Sharks on the ice thought the clock hit all zeros as the puck got to where Morris was. Morris would drill a slap shot from the slot area that would be ruled a buzzer beater as it got past Niemi and crossed the goal line with :00.4 remaining, which is not :00.0 … The game was tied 2-2 and the Sharks lost the traction that took 19:59 to build up.

Coyotes Bite Again- As bad as the final seconds were for the Sharks in the first period, the first 50 seconds of the second period would simply not be any better for team teal. The Coyotes wasted little time grabbing the lead as Lauri Korpikoski would direct in a feed pass from Whitney to give Phoenix a 3-2 lead before most patrons had returned to their seats from the concessions. Once again that “uh oh” feeling seemed to circulate around the Shark Tank. At this point Niemi had given up three goals on nine shots and it did not look very good. However, Niemi would rally from this and find his land legs that he would need to have for the rest of the evening. Niemi would just seconds later stop a point blank scoring attempt by Boyd Gordon.

Winnik and the Hard Hat Zone- The Sharks would find a way to quickly regroup after this and start to push a hard forecheck in the Coyotes zone. The Sharks were patient in staying with the puck and kept enough pressure going on the Phoenix side of the ice. Soon Winnik would get a scoring opportunity as team teal held their zone. From the right of the slot Winnik would drill a slap shot the Smith never saw as the puck found the back of the net to tie the game at 3-3. Prior to Winnik’s goal, Burns would launch a slap shot from the right point that was net bound, unfortunately would hit Clowe in the helmet as he was trying to screen Smith and be set for a rebound. Clowe would leave the game but return in the third period after some ice and maybe an aspirin. Clowe had later mentioned in a post game interview that the helmet he had was new and he had it only for a few weeks. (Thank goodness the helmet did it’s job).

A Fight to the Finish- After Winnik’s game tying goal, the rest of the second period and the majority of the third period would see both teams get plenty of chances to break the tie. However this is also where both Niemi and Smith earned their respective paychecks as they stood tall against some strong scoring chances on each side of the ice. The Sharks had five power play opportunities, four of which went the entire two minutes. The sum of these chances was over eight minutes of time on the power play only too see the Coyotes penalty kill rise up and hold the Sharks to three shots on goal and not much else. The Sharks would combine for 18 shots on goal over the second and third period while Phoenix had 19 total.

Several Sharks all had good looks at the net however best efforts from the likes of Pavelski, Justin Braun, Torrey Mitchell, and Dominic Moore would all fall just short of getting past Smith. Pavelski had a tip in attempt of a Marleau shot with 2:03 remaining in regulation that Smith saved. Niemi also received a late challenge from the Coyotes as he was able to make his own save of a point blank attempt by Phoenix’s Brule. In the overtime the Sharks held Phoenix without an official shot on goal though the Coyotes were able to apply some offensive pressure. The Sharks had four shots on goal on the overtime session but could not get anything past Smith who remained tough.

In the shootout period Handzus and Clowe took care of business while Niemi stood tall in net stopping both Boedker’s and Whitney’s attempts. With the shootout win, team teal managed to lock down a long hard fought and at times seeming torturous game that they were able to come out ahead of when all was said and done. The only damage done here was Phoenix still getting a point in the standings for their OTL. The Sharks will take the two points, however probably also no that failing to close out periods can lead to games being in jeopardy otherwise and giving away points that should never happen for the opponent.

Game Analysis- The game as a whole was a good and fun game to watch if you were neutral. If you had more than a passing interest in the game, then you were likely sitting on the edge of your seat for most of it as I admittedly was. The Sharks played just well enough to win this game in regulation and frankly should have, and I feel they know this too. I’m just hoping that the point the Coyotes gained because of that last second goal in the first period won’t keep the Sharks out of the Pacific Division title or even a spot in the upcoming playoffs. If you even take a second off in a game, that second a team takes off can be huge and honestly was here. There was no excuse to allow the Coyotes an opportunity to even get a shot on goal off, much less score one with not even half a second remaining in the period.

Aside from that, the Sharks played a fairly decent game. The game was probably not very sexy or even art as far as the Sharks are concerned, however a win over the Coyotes who have dominated them for much of the season is one you need to take running. As for what you lost in the game, that won’t be sorted out for another two weeks.  The Sharks were faster as a team tonight and created a good deal of chances while giving the Coyotes a tough time with their forecheck. The power play I realize won’t hit every single time or even no more than maybe a third of the time if it’s really strong and outstanding. The Sharks power play tonight considering going a full 0 for 4 was fairly weak. Of course you have to give credit to the Coyotes in part. Team teal did not use these opportunities outside of the first man advantage to really generate any real momentum. This will have to improve and with the post season around the corner if they can get there. Hopefully the Sharks will start to get hot soon (as in very soon…as in a month ago). Only seven games left in the regular season and team teal no longer has margin for error. The Sharks are 5-2-1 since March 12th.

**San Jose Sharks Hockey, It’s Torcher!!! (Please don’t get mad, if you recall a very popular local baseball team two years ago started using that slogan late in their season and they took it all the way to a Championship title. I don’t know if that will work for the Sharks, but I figure anything is worth a try…)…



The King Shark


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