A committed Coyotes team who was looking to make a statement after being trounced 6-3 in their season opener got their revenge tonight, shutting out the Sharks 3-0 in front of a sellout crowd at HP Pavilion.
Radim Vrbata, Boyd Gordon, and Patrick O'Sullivan scored for Phoenix, while Mike Smith made 31 saves in the victory.
"We remembered the first game of the season. We definitely talked about it," Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata said. "We wanted to make a better effort and hopefully get a better result."
The first period started off with Phoenix and San Jose trading scoring chances but quickly settled into a low-key affair as both teams kept the opposition to the outside and limited shots in the center of the ice. Phoenix would strike first courtesy of HP Pavilion's new endboards after a shot off the stick of Ray Whitney went wide of the net. It careened out to Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata, who would pounce on the loose puck and bang home a shot past a sprawling Thomas Greiss.
The Coyotes would score again in the opening frame, this time with under a minute remaining in the period. Following a turnover by Dan Boyle in the neutral zone, Phoenix would come down the ice on a 3v3 rush which the Sharks managed to handle well. A seemingly harmless backhand shot from Boyd Gordon managed to squeek by Thomas Greiss after he got a piece of it however, putting the Sharks down a pair heading into intermission.
It wasn't the start Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan wanted to see from his team.
"I thought we were lethargic between the ears. Some of the things that we talked about even in the first five minutes of the game," McLellan said. "We were in the wrong spots which tells me that we weren’t mentally ready to play tonight, and when you are not there mentally the physical part of the game doesn’t follow."
San Jose would come out firing in the second, as McLellan swapped his top six centerman. Joe Thornton got paired with Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe, while Patrick Marleau saw time with Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. It worked for the most part as San Jose showed a lot of jump in the neutral zone and outshot Phoenix 11-5 in the frame, but strong team defense by Phoenix and some big saves by Smith held San Jose off the board.
"Our (defense) was fantastic tonight. They did a good job clearing and letting me see the pucks," Coyotes netminder Mike Smith said. "You know, we deserved to win that game. When we play like that, we are going to win lots of games."
The third period started off slow for San Jose before they received a power play at the 6:17 mark. A frenzy in front of the net that Smith somehow managed to keep out after Joe Pavelski took a wack seemed to re-energize the Sharks, as they picked up where they left off in the second period and began to pour on the pressure in the Coyotes zone.
With the team pressing for a goal however, San Jose shot themselves in the foot with a breakdown in their own end. A loose puck along the sideboards drew four Sharks up the ice like moths to a flame, with defensemen Brent Burns and Dan Boyle eventually finding themselves near the top of the circle and away from the net. The Coyotes worked the puck down low for a 2 on 0 opportunity in front of the helpless Greiss; Patrick O'Sullivan tipped home a feed from Kyle Chipchura to give the Coyotes a 3-0 lead and put the game out of reach.
Mike Smith turned in a spectacular performance for Phoenix, making 31 stops including a beauty on Brent Burns in the second period and countless others throughout the tilt. He's been the difference maker this year for Phoenix, making a strong case that it may be Dave Tippet's defensive system and exemplary coaching abilities which allow the organization to consistently churn out above average goaltending numbers. Credit should also go to Phoenix's defenseman and forward group for restricting second chance opportunities-- they tied up bodies and sticks in front of the net well tonight, locking down the Sharks on the rare rebound left in the crease.
The Sharks penalty kill has performed quite well during the last three games, turning around what was once the 29th ranked PK in the NHL. They are much more aggressive on the puck, hunting down opposing players in the defensive zone and forcing them to make quick decisions instead of setting up. Phoenix managed to find a soft spot in the Sharks coverage between the circles twice tonight, something the Sharks will need to tweak going forward, but overall it was a positive performance for a unit that needs more efforts like these to stay competitive.
The third line of Michal Handzus, Torrey Mitchell, and Jamie McGinn managed to generate some good scoring opportunities in the Phoenix zone, combining for seven shots on the night and avoiding being out there for a goal against. San Jose has managed to win games without much scoring depth this season, but seeing that line begin to come together can only help as the season moves forward.
San Jose's 8-2-1 record since dropping three games in a row in early October lessens the urgency of a shutout loss like this. Yes the offensive side of the puck was inconsistent, 19 giveaways are a concern (even if half of them were in the more acceptable offensive zone), and a woeful faceoff percentage (43%, including just 31% on the power play) are all issues that need addressing. With that being said, I felt that the Sharks did a good job of limiting Phoenix's scoring chances throughout the night. They were fairly tight defensively, didn't give a whole lot up, and managed to control the amount of rubber Greiss saw from in tight. Nothing to put a feather in your cap over, but something to consider in lieu of a good performance by Phoenix.
San Jose will have a four day break in action before facing the Detroit Red Wings at HP Pavilion on Thursday.