COYOTES VS. SAN JOSE: GAME PREVIEW
San Jose at Phoenix
GAME: San Jose Sharks (23-18-6) at Phoenix Coyotes (25-24-2).
TIME: Saturday, 9 p.m. EST.
The Phoenix Coyotes will kick off a 10-game homestand and try to remain perfect this season against the San Jose Sharks when the Pacific Division rivals meet at Glendale Arena.
The teams start play tied for fourth in Pacific and trying to make up ground the playoff race. San Jose and Phoenix both have 52 points - eight points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
San Jose, though, has played four fewer games. Phoenix has won all three games between the teams this season, each by one goal.
The Coyotes avoided a third-straight loss with a 5-3 win Thursday over the St. Louis Blues on coach Wayne Gretzky's 45th birthday.
Oleg Saprykin scored twice in a three-goal third for Phoenix.
"Our kids just battled," Gretzky said. "At the end of a road trip, to come back in the third period is a nice confidence builder for the young guys."
Leading scorer Ladislav Nagy had two assists, including one on Shane Doan's empty-net goal with 22 seconds to play. Nagy has a goal and four assists in three games this season against San Jose.
The extended home stand combined with break for next month's Turin Olympics means the Coyotes will not play on the road until March 7 at Detroit.
The Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday, falling 2-0 to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
San Jose is 8-2-1 in its last 11 games.
Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves, but San Jose couldn't get any of its 24 shots past Anaheim's Ilya Bryzgalov.
"That comes out of nowhere," said Sharks coach Ron Wilson of the loss. "That was just a collective dud, with the exception of Nabby. He was on top of his game, and we just wasted it. ... It looked like we were hoping Anaheim was tired from competing last night.
"We weren't involved physically at all. It looked like we wanted an easy game."
Jonathan Cheechoo's franchise-record point-scoring streak was snapped at 12 games. He had 10 goals and nine assists in that span.
Cheechoo has five goals, including two game-winners, in 12 career games against the Coyotes.
STANDINGS: Sharks - 52 points, 4th place (tied), 16 PB, Pacific Division. Coyotes - 52 points, 4th place (tied), 16 PB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Cheechoo, 26 goals; Joe Thornton, 49 assists and 66 points; Mark Smith, 63 PIM. Coyotes - Nagy, Doan and Mike Comrie, 15 goals; Nagy, 37 assists and 52 points; Sean O'Donnell, 108 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 26): Sharks - Power play: 17.2 percent (50 for 290), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.6 percent (184 for 231), 26th. Coyotes - Power play: 18.4 percent (63 for 343), 13th. Penalty killing: 80.1 percent (257 for 321), 25th.
GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (13-12-5, 1 SO, 2.94 GAA); Vesa Toskala (5-4-1, 3.20). Coyotes - Curtis Joseph (19-13-0, 2, 2.74); Brian Boucher (3-6-0, 3.89).
SEASON SERIES: Coyotes, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 28; Coyotes, 5-4. At San Jose, Calif., Derek Morris' goal during a two-man advantage sparked a four-goal rally early in the third period and Doan scored twice to lead the Coyotes to victory.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 9-13-2 on the road; Coyotes - 13-10-1 at home.
KEY TO THE GAME: Although it is a daunting task on the surface, the Coyotes will need to shut down the big four of San Jose (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Nils Ekman). Together, the group has amassed nearly 200 points and has helped lead the Sharks turnaround. Containing their offensive prowess will require the Coyotes to play a smart, defense-first style of game if they are going to take one step closer to getting back into the playoff picture.