The ornaments have been placed into storage, the stockings unhung, the lights re-spooled and the tree taken down as the NHL restarts its 2013-14 season following a three-day Christmas break. San Jose emerges from their brief vacation two points back of the Los Angeles Kings and seven points back of the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division standings. They'll have a chance to make up some of that ground with four straight games against division rivals beginning tonight in Arizona.
After a 13-4-2 start to the season, the Coyotes have cooled down a bit as their once red-hot offense has struggled to maintain its early pace. They're also dealing with injuries to captain Shane Doan and defenseman Zbynek Michalek, one-half of their tough-minutes pairing on the blueline. Playing more minutes due to injuries, center Antoine Vermette has done an admirable job picking up the scoring slack with a hat trick in Ottawa on the 'Yotes' most recent road trip as Phoenix remains very much in contention for a Western Conference wild card playoff spot.
San Jose will be without Tomas Hertl, on the shelf until at least early March with a knee injury, and Marty Havlat, who's nursing a lower-body ailment of his own and didn't make the trip down to the desert. That leaves the Sharks with forward depth issues akin to the 2011-12 season as well as last campaign prior to the trade deadline. Right now, San Jose has two dangerous lines and not much else. They'll need their top six, particularly Logan Couture who remains mired in a goalless drought despite generating a ton of quality looks, to break through against a goaltender who has long been the bane of this franchise in order to get the two points tonight. Speaking of Mike Smith, here's a visual guide to how the Sharks should try to beat him:
|23-8-6, 52 points
||19-10-7, 45 points|
|3rd in Pacific
||5th in Pacific
Projected Sharks Lineup
Projected Coyotes Lineup