SAN JOSE- Just 48 hours after a convincing 3-1 victory over a streaking Minnesota Wild club, the San Jose Sharks nearly flipped 180 degrees in a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
With the previous victory over Minnesota and the ever dangerous Detroit Red Wings lurking on the schedule, some experts may suggest that Saturday’s tilt with the Coyotes to be a “trap game.” Yet those unheralded Coyotes have now pulled even with the Sharks at 19 points a piece.
Phoenix, despite low expectations from the so called “experts”, came into the night having posted 3-1-1 mark in their previous five games. Leading the way has been 39-year-old winger Ray Whitney who continues defy father time. Whitney would pick up his team leading 15th point in 15 games with an assist in the first period but it was goaltender Mike Smith’s shutout performance that led the way. against the Sharks.
All told Smith turned away 31 San Jose shots and looked much more like the goaltender who came into the game with a .925 save percentage than the one who gave up six goals to these same Sharks back on opening night.
With the performance they got between the pipes, Radim Vrbata’s first period goal would be all the Coyotes needed. After a pass of the rush seemed to be broken up by the skate of Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, a loose puck landed on Whitney’s stick in a clutter of players in the center of the Sharks zone. Whitney then turned and whipped a shot wide of the net. Unfortunately for the Sharks their new livelier boards enabled the puck to carom neatly out to Vrbata who quickly wristed a shot past a sprawling Thomas Greiss.
Despite the shaky start for the Sharks, as they were out-shot 11-7 in the opening frame, it appeared that they could reach intermission down just a goal.
But with less than a minute to go in the period a stoppable backhand shot from Coyotes Boyd Gordon snuck under the pad of Greiss and trickled in.
“It just got stuck under my pad” said Greiss. “It hit my skate and I wasn’t sure where it was. I tried to recover and I just kicked it into my net. It’s my fault, it was a bad goal.”
Greiss—San Jose’s backup netminder while Antero Niittymaki recovers from surgery—had been stellar early on in the season starts posting a .928 save percentage and 1.99 GAA in his first five starts.
And even though Boyd’s late first period tally was Greiss’ biggest hiccup thus far this season, it really didn’t matter in the end.
“He [Greiss] could have gotten a shutout and we still would have only gotten a point” retorted Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “So let’s not even go there.”
The Sharks did manage to pick up their game in the final two periods as they out shot the Coyotes 24 to 12 over the final 40 minutes but a lack of speed through the neutral zone prevented them from higher quality chances.
“I think the whole night their neutral zone was really good and ours was really bad offensively” commented Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. “Bottom line is we didn’t get through the neutral zone.”
San Jose’s play turned around shortly after McLellan mixed up his top two lines as he put Ryane Clowe with Joe Thornton and Martin Havlat leaving Patrick Marleau with Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. The new combinations created some momentum but not just not enough to break through against Smith.
“When your not sharp [and] when your a little lethargic you create some opportunities but you usually don’t finish them” added McLellan. “We saw that tonight.”
Coyotes forward Patrick O’Sullivan would cap the scoring with a tap in goal midway through the third period after miscommunication between Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski led to a turnover in the Sharks zone. Phoenix took advantage as Greiss was left all alone defending against O’Sullivan and Kyle Chipchura.
The rather fitting nail in the coffin came with still over seven minutes left to play but San Jose mustered little in the way of chances from there on out.