Contenders and Pretenders: Sharks dominate in the desert

For the 4th time this season and the 8th game in a row the San Jose Sharks beat the Phoenix Coyotes at arena in Glendale Arizona.

Logan Couture scored twice tonight to lead the Sharks and added an assist on Ryan Clowe's goal. Joe Pavelski scored the Sharks second which turned out to be the game winner. Assisting on Pavelski's 18th of the season were Thornton and Mayers at 3:35 of the second period.

It was all San Jose tonight in the desert. Unlike other teams the Sharks have the ability to consistently find a way to beat the Coyotes net-minder Ilya Bryzgalaov. So far this season they have shelled the Coyotes scoring 17 goals in four games while giving up 7. To say that the Sharks have their number would be an understatement.

Logan Couture - is tonight's first contender for scoring two goals and an assist. The Sharks rookie has smashed the organization's previous rookie scoring record held by Pat Falloon with 25. Couture score his 29th and 30th goals of the season and continues his quest for the Calder Trophy awarded to the top rookie in the league. The 21 year old's game has been consistent from day one and his importance to the team was described by coach McLellan after the game

"He's a catalyst for our team, we feel comfortable playing him in any situation with any players. For him to get to thirty is a hell of a reward for a heck of a good season to this point. He's also had some good help Clowey has ridden shot gun withhim all year, and I think they have benefited from being around each other."

Ryan Clowe - was without a doubt a contender tonight and has been a rock all year long for team teal. Tonight Clowe demonstrated how valuable he is to his team mates by dropping the gloves and squaring off with the Coyotes heavy weight Paul Bissonnette. Bissonnette was trying to get Marc-Eduoard Vlasic to dance, but found himself with a much tougher opponent in Clowe. Clowe recorded an unofficial stat referred to as the Gordie Howe hat-trick which consists of a goal, an assist, and a fight.

It is important for players to know that their team mates have their back and Ryan Clowe has sent word around the NHL that if you want to a piece of the skilled players on the ice you will have to answer to the 6'2, 225 pound Newfoundlander. The luxury that the Sharks' coaching staff have is that this kind of player is typically a liability in other aspects of the game. On the other hand Ryan Clowe does so many things well for this team. He works the boards as well as any power forward, he scores goals, he has become a vocal leader in the room, and has also proved to be very durable for his style of play.  When the skilled players know that a guy like Clowe has their back it gives them a world of confidence. Simply put Ryan Clowe makes the other Sharks better just by being in the line-up.

Antti Niemi- continues to excel regardless of his work load. In Niemi's 31st start in a row he stopped 25 shots and had no chance on the Coyotes only goal. He wasn't tested often, but when he was, he came up big. He robbed Yandle after he snuck in from the point with a blocker save that would have tied the game and may have changed the momentum. Niemi's lateral movement was impressive all night long and was a factor on his most difficult saves. With a four day break until the Sharks play again we should expect to see Niemi get the start on Thursday against the visiting Dallas Stars.

Jason Demers- has quietly evolved his game and learned to pick his spots for carrying the puck. Tonight Demers carried the play into the offensive zone with great efficiency earning honorable mention on the contenders list. This second year 7th round draft pick only leads the team in plus/minus category at plus 14 and as a result of his improving puck handling skills has taken some pressure off of Dan Boyle. He has earned the trust from his team mates and will be a key player if the Sharks are going to make a deep playoff run.

Ilya Bryzgalov- was awful tonight and has been all year long against San Jose earning tonight's pretender. He is the Coyotes team MVP and will be considered for the Vezina Trophy. Bryzgalov made some good saves but the soft goals scored by Clowe and Couture's second of the game earned him top honors. Flat out he can't like playing against the Sharks. The Coyotes are one of three teams in the league that don't have a 20 goal scorer so they depend on stellar goal-tending, and when they get it they usually win.

The Phoenix Coyotes - as a team earned the title of pretenders. This was a game that could have moved them into first place in the division, they had lost 7 straight dating back to last year and three in a row this year against the Sharks and they showed no life. Clearly there was a lack of effort on the part of the Coyotes, and this time of year that is not only embarrassing but unacceptable.

Mikkel Boedker tallied the lone marker for Phoenix after a fortuitous bounce.

San Jose should be so lucky to find themselves facing off against the Coyotes in the post season. Before that happens though they battle with the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at the Shark Tank. These two teams do not like one another and Dallas's desperation level should be at an all time high. On March 15th San Jose doubled up on the Stars 6-3 in Dallas which will be fresh in their minds as they face-off against one another for the final time this year unless they meet in the post season.

Keep your stick on the ice,

Cam Gore