Surging Sharks visit struggling Coyotes

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5:00 PST
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29-14-6, 64 points

22-21-8, 52 points

3rd in Western Conference 12th in Western Conference

Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Five For Howling
Ice Chips

It's amazing how much one offseason can change a team.

Not player wise, as those things happen. But in the product iced. The Sharks haven't fallen into this category lately; they've remained a consistent top three seed in the Western Conference over the last five or so years. While they've never reached hockey's golden stage, they're stunningly consistent. I take that as a positive, others, not so much. Not an debate I want to get into now, though.

Phoenix has not been blessed with this kind of consistency. After a long stretch of seasons in which they didn't sniff the playoffs, Phoenix snuck in and looked to be turning the corner when they took the Detroit Red Wings to seven games. The next season, they were swept by the same Wings in four but still looked like a quality hockey club.

Not anymore.

The Coyotes are 3-4-3 in their last ten, second to last in power play percentage this season, and in the last third of the league in goal scoring overall. Dave Tippett is still a guy who gets his team to play hard, and the goal prevention numbers shine through. But with practically the same group of forwards and defensemen, the Coyotes are slowly burning into ash.

You could argue that Ilya Bryzgalov's absence has had something to do with it, but you would be wrong. Goaltending hasn't been the issue at all, as Mike Smith has been excellent, especially sparkling in a 3-0 shutout of San Jose earlier this season. Phoenix, again, looks like it lacks the necessary talent to put the puck in the net; Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan just can't carry this load for them.

How does this happen? A few ways. First, Phoenix isn't exactly destination numero uno for marquee free agents in the offseason, attracting even less big names than San Jose. It doesn't help when you miss on draft picks either, and although Kyle Turris looks like he'll be a decent player now that he's in Ottawa, the former third-overall pick was a bust in Phoenix and is a step backwards for an organization where developing your own talent is essential.

Lastly, the murky ownership situation isn't an easy road to haul for anyone. Ups and downs eventually take their toll on a team, and this year, all of the above circumstances likely mean that the downs this year will spell another year without playoffs (or playoff income) for the Coyotes.

As I write this, though, it's easy to forget that Phoenix is a team who consistently plays San Jose well, evidenced in the 3-0 shutout earlier in the year.

Luckily for San Jose, they're getting healthy (finally) and can almost ice their entire roster. Ryane Clowe is back and Antti Niemi will likely be ok tonight or by Wednesday after taking a shot to his Niemis. Look for the Sharks to keep rolling.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-1. McGinn hat trick. WHAT.

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