Sharks vs. Coyotes: Another game, another desperate opponent

Thearon W. Henderson

Of the Sharks' final seven games, five will come against teams fighting for their playoff lives. The fun begins tonight in Phoenix.

With the exception of tomorrow night's game and the regular season finale, both of which will be against the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks find themselves with a remaining schedule that pits them exclusively against teams fighting tooth and nail to make the playoffs. San Jose themselves aren't guaranteed a spot but with something around an 88% probability of making the dance, they're essentially in barring an epic collapse.

The same can't be said about Phoenix, Minnesota, Columbus and Dallas, all of whom the Sharks will draw over the final two weeks of the campaign. They'll face the Coyotes, who are currently four points out of eighth place, twice in Arizona, beginning tonight. All signs point to Phoenix's improbable but impressive three-year playoff streak coming to an end and the franchise's tenure in the desert might be going along with it.

Despite their unenviable rank in the standings, the Coyotes' dropoff this season hasn't been for lack of ability. They're a plus-possession team whose struggles have largely come as a result of Mike Smith returning to...well, being Mike Smith. The work Don Maloney has done with that team since being named GM 6 years ago is often overlooked, but it shouldn't be. Over the past two seasons alone, and while operating on a shoestring budget, he acquired Antoine Vermette for peanuts courtesy Scott Howson's inability to understand regression. He capitalized on Ray Shero's clearing of cap space in pursuit of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise by re-acquiring underrated shutdown defenseman Zbynek Michalek. He quietly built arguably the best checking line in hockey by targeting relative unknowns Boyd Gordon, David Moss and Rob Klinkhammer in free agency.

That the Coyotes have any shot at the playoffs at all this season, and that they were in a position to ride hot goaltending to the NHL's final four a year ago, is thanks to the shrewd, under-the-radar moves Maloney has made at the helm. If the Coyotes' interminable ownership saga is indeed finally settled and the team is slated to move to anywhere from Seattle to Quebec City, it would be a huge mistake for new owners to bring in a different GM. For the time being, the Coyotes are still in Phoenix and will be attempting to claw their way back into the playoff race when they host the Sharks tonight.

San Jose Sharks

@

Phoenix Coyotes
21-13-7, 49 points
18-16-4, 43 points
5th in Western Conference 11th in Western Conference

7PM PST | Jobing.com Arena | Phoenix, Arizona
TV: CSNCA-HD | Radio: 98.5 KFOX, SJSharks.com
Know Your Enemy: Five For Howling

Projected Sharks Lineup

T.J. Galiardi - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Raffi Torres - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
Andrew Desjardins - Scott Gomez - Adam Burish

Brad Stuart - Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Projected Coyotes Lineup

Radim Vrbata - Martin Hanzal - Shane Doan
Chris Conner - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Rob Klinkhammer - Boyd Gordon - David Moss
Paul Bissonnette - Kyle Chipchura - Alexandre Bolduc

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Michael Stone

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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