By Dave Vest
SAN JOSE –
The Coyotes will try to climb closer to the top of the Pacific Division standings tonight when they play the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion. The puck drops at 8:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
San Jose leads the division with 53 points, and Phoenix is in second place with 50. Granted it’s just December, but the Coyotes are fired up for this showdown.
“They are the only team in our division above us right now and we know that,” Coyotes defenseman Adrian Aucoin
said. “We’re just a few points behind them, so for us it’s probably the biggest game of the year.”
Phoenix (24-13-2) has won nine games in a row at home but is just 3-4-2 in its past nine road games.
The Coyotes will be playing minus forward Daniel Winnik, a key penalty killer who suffered an upper-body injury on Saturday vs. Los Angeles. The Coyotes placed Winnik on the injured reserve list on Sunday. He is listed as week-to-week.
“That’s a hole for us to fill,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “He takes up some real important minutes in the game. He’ll certainly be missed… but now people will have to jump in and fill the void.”
On the plus side, center Vernon Fiddler
, another key penalty killer, will return to the lineup after missing three games because of a lower-body injury.
The Sharks (23-8-7) have won four games in a row. While their success on offense has been well documented, it’s important to note that only four teams in the Western Conference – including the Coyotes – have allowed fewer than the 99 goals the Sharks have allowed.
“They are a solid all-around team,” Tippett said. “They don’t cheat the game on the offensive side to get all those goals. They’re a solid team all the way through. Their blue line is very good.”
Center Joe Thornton leads the Sharks and the NHL with 44 assists and 54 points. Newcomer Dany Heatley has 23 goals and 21 assists in his first season with San Jose.
“They’ve had some good scorers throughout the years, but most have been the product of Joe Thornton playing with them,” Aucoin said. “Heatley is one of those guys who can do it on his own so he’s a double threat.”