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Sharks at Coyotes Preview: A first look at the desert dogs

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San Jose looks to play 60 minutes of hockey.

Feb 13, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks right wing Joonas Donskoi (27) keeps the puck away from Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe, but we’re two months into the season and this is the first time we’re seeing the division rival Arizona Coyotes (13-12-2). Fresh off the loss in Dallas, the San Jose Sharks (14-11-5) are in Arizona this morning getting ready for the second half of another back-to-back.

The Coyotes are a little more rested. They played on Thursday night at home against the Washington Capitals. It was a 4-1 loss. The Coyotes are currently sixth in the Pacific Division, but only five points behind the Sharks, so it’s not as big of a difference as you would think.

Before the loss, Arizona had a four-game win streak, so you can bet the team will be looking to right the ship quickly.

We haven’t seen the Desert Dogs in regular season play since Feb. 13, 2018. It was a 2-1 win by Arizona. So let’s take a look at what’s different.

The Coyotes traded Max Domi in the off-season and added Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk was injured early in the season and has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 20 games. Arizona also added Michael Grabner to the roster and traded away Marcus Kruger.

Fast forward to this season, where youngster Clayton Keller is still the budding star of the team. He leads the team with 19 points and has the most goals with 9. When it comes to assists, things start on the blueline with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He has 13 assists for the season.

It’s questionable who will be in net for Arizona. Presumed starter Antti Raanta is on injured reserve with a lower body injury, as is backup Darcy Kuemper. Both of them are below .500 in the win/loss record, but they have both have better save percentages than Aaron Dell or Martin Jones.

The real trouble is the guy filling in for Raanta and Kuemper. Adin Hill is 4-1-0 for the season with a 1.09 goals against average and a .957 save percentage. I get the impression that thisis one of those games you want to see the starter instead of the called up AHL goaltender.

What about those road wins?

It’s been a troubling trend of late: San Jose can’t seem to pull it together on the road. The season record is 5-8-3 in road games. But when you look at the recent record, you find the Sharks have gone 1-6-1 since Nov. 8. It’s tough to win a division if you’re not winning on the road.

Does Radim Simek stay in the lineup?

Head Coach Pete DeBoer likes using that sixth (?) d-man spot as a way to rotate in whichever young defenseman he’s least annoyed with. While the team was winning, Simek got to stay. The question now is whether he gets to stay after the loss to Dallas.

Simek wasn’t superstar material last night, but he also wasn’t the worst defenseman on the ice. If I’m being honest, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the one making the most mistakes and miscues. The normally superhuman Vlasic has looked average of late. I have to wonder if something is wrong.

But back to Simek. He had 15:07 of ice time last night (7 seconds more than Brenden Dillon) and was credited with two hits. They were impressive hits.

I like Simek. He plays a physical game and doesn’t screw up. It’s kind of all I’m looking for in a d-man that’s just starting out.

Can they play 60 minutes of hockey?

I know this is amazingly cliche, but after last night’s game I feel like it needs to be said. The Sharks were all over the Stars last night and they really looked like they controlled the game. But they let up and got sloppy for two to five minutes in the third period. Playing just 55 minutes instead of the full 60 is what lost them the game.

The Sharks need to stick to the game plan and not get sloppy. They’ve lost composure at times and this season goaltending has failed to bail them out the way it has in years past.

Bold Prediction: Jumbo Joe Thornton picks the team up and has a goal and two assists. Evander Kane shows how mad he is about the team and his play of late and pulls off a Gordie Howe hat trick. That’s my thoughts, what’s yours?