For the second game in a row, the Sharks picked up a point after losing beyond regulation time but their performance in tonight's 3-2 shootout loss to Phoenix was decidedly several steps up from their showing Wednesday in Los Angeles. San Jose generated 50 shots on goal for the third time in fourteen games this season but shootout tallies by Radim Vrbata and Antoine Vermette allowed the Coyotes to pick up the extra point.
While they dominated Phoenix territorially for the majority of the night, thanks in no small part to six power play opportunities, things started out terribly for the Sharks. Thirty-six seconds into the game, Brad Stuart needlessly stepped up on a fallen Mikkel Boedker at the San Jose blueline with two Coyotes behind him. Rob Klinkhammer fed Vermette in the left faceoff circle for a snapshot that beat Antti Niemi. A Martin Hanzal elbowing minor and a four-minute high-sticking penalty by Vrbata gave the Sharks a chance to tie it up but despite ample puck movement, quality looks on Mike Smith were largely denied by the Phoenix penalty killers.
Still, it was essentially all Sharks from there on out and they would eventually even up the Coyotes with a terrific breakout that led to a 2-on-1 for Matt Nieto, making his own return to the lineup, and Joe Pavelski, who went bar down on Smith. Dan Boyle, playing his first game since being injured in St. Louis, finally helped the Sharks convert on the man-advantage, beating Smith from the left faceoff dot on one of the 21 power play shots San Jose managed tonight.
Their lead was short-lived as Keith Yandle turned aside a Tomas Hertl breakaway attempt and allowed his partner Derek Morris to kickstart the play the other way, leading to Mikkel Boedker walking around Marc-Edouard Vlasic and depositing a goal that Niemi, as the saying goes, would have liked back. But the Sharks had chance after chance to finish this in the third period, including a Tyler Kennedy turnaround shot from the slot off a Phoenix giveaway, Joe Thornton and John McCarthy on separate 2-on-1s and Logan Couture on a rebound that squeaked through Smith but stopped short of the goal line with just over thirty seconds on the clock. It was one of those nights, against a goaltender that's been responsible for several of these nights over the past two seasons and change, but an encouraging one nonetheless; with Boyle and Nieto back in the lineup, the Sharks much more closely resembled the team that took the league by storm in early October than the one that was involved in much more evenly-matched affairs on their just-completed road trip. They just didn't have the finish to show for it on this night.
- As well as they played in regulation, that was an ugly, ugly overtime for the Sharks. They were outshot 7-0 and gave up two grade-A chances to Vermette and Mike Ribeiro, both of whom luckily shanked their shots.
- I'm still convinced he'll be a valuable piece going forward but that was an unceremonious game for Martin Havlat. Reunited with the linemates with whom he had the most success last season in Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, and playing in front of Vlasic and Braun for the majority of the night, he made some questionable decisions with the puck and generally wasn't pushing the pace in the neutral zone like he's capable of. That entire five-man unit, save Couture, struggled and while I wouldn't lay the blame entirely at Marty's feet, he needs to be better and I'm sure he will be as he gets into game shape. I did think he had a nice shift in overtime alongside Joe Thornton.
- Speaking of that Couture line, a curious note is that Marleau took seven faceoffs in this game, just one fewer than Couture. I'd have to rewatch those draws to find out how many Couture was kicked out of the circle prior to, but at first glance that's an oddly high number and Marleau got smoked, winning just two of them.
- Following a nightmare first shift, I thought Dan Boyle settled down and had a fairly typical Dan Boyle game for the remainder, which is certainly a good sign. After his gaffe on the Vermette goal, Stuart unsurprisingly looked much better alongside Boyle than he had with Matt Irwin, who I still think deserves to draw back into the lineup in Stuart's spot at some point.
- At one point, the scoring chances in this game were 13-2 Sharks while the score was 2-2. Not Niemi's finest hour.
- I can't bring myself to get too worked up about shootout lineup decisions but Jason Demers taking an attempt over Boyle was a weird one. I'm guessing the coaching staff saw something in practice.
- Keith Yandle is awesome, and is probably having an even better season for Phoenix than young stud Oliver Ekman-Larsson so far. I thought he was the Coyotes' best player on the ice tonight aside from Smith and it's going to be a welcome change of pace to be able to cheer for him at the Olympics in February.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Mike Smith
2nd Star: Joe Pavelski
3rd Star: Logan Couture