By Dave Vest
GLENDALE – Chasing the San Jose Sharks in the standings is challenging enough for the Coyotes. Chasing the Sharks within a game with Evgeni Nabokov in goal is even tougher.
San Jose scored a short-handed goal, a power-play goal and an even-strength goal Tuesday night at Jobing.com Arena and beat Phoenix 3-1.
Nabokov stopped 32 of 33 shots. Only Radim Vrbata's 14th goal of the season in the third period spoiled his bid for his 50th career shutout and eighth blanking of the Coyotes.
NHL goal-scoring leader Patrick Marleau netted two goals and assisted on a third for San Jose (30-10-7), which leads the Pacific Division with 67 points, 10 more than the second-place Coyotes.
A mistake by Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera and Phoenix’s failure to score on seven power plays keyed the outcome.
"We're not in rhythm right now," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "There are some mistakes going against us and, like we've talked about since the start of the year, our margin for error is very slim on most nights."
Just seconds into Phoenix’s third power play, LaBarbera goofed as he tried to play the puck behind the Coyotes net after a dump-in by San Jose's Rob Blake. LaBarbera lost his balance and control of the puck, and it slid into the crease where Marleau was waiting to tap it into the empty for a 1-0 lead at 11:24 of the first period.
San Jose, playing its second game in two nights, took a 2-0 lead when Marleau scored a power-play goal at 18:06 of the first period. Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle started the play with a shot from the point. Sharks forward Dany Heatley tipped the puck as it approached the crease and Marleau then redirected Heatley’s deflection past LaBarbera.
The Sharks upped their lead to 3-0 when Heatley banged his own rebound through LaBarbera at 12:49 of the second period.
The Coyotes (26-16-5) were awarded three of their seven power plays within the first 12 minutes of the game, but they struggled to keep possession of the puck.
"Our penalty kill gives us a chance to win every night," said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan, whose team entered the game ranked second in the league in penalty killing at 86.6 percent.
Trailing 3-0, the Coyotes had a brief five-on-three power play late in the second period. At one point, center Robert Lang slid a pass to Scottie Upshall in the low slot and Upshall tried to sweep the puck past Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. After Nabokov made a nice save, several Sharks pushed Upshall away from the crease. Upshall responded by jabbing Sharks center Patrick Marleau in the face. Upshall was called for roughing and what was left of the two-man advantage was over.
• Forward Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup after missing three games because of an upper-body injury. He played 12:20, took three shots on goal, delivered two hits and was minus-1.
• Center Matthew Lombardi appeared to score a goal early in the first period but the goal was not allowed because a whistle had been blown before the puck crossed the line.
• The Coyotes are 0-2-2 since posting a franchise-high 10-game home winning streak.
• Defenseman Zbynek Michalek was shaken up late in the second period after San Jose’s Joe Thornton boarded him into the left corner of Phoenix’s zone. Michalek remained on the ice for several moments before getting back to his feet and skating to the bench. Michalek returned to the game.
• The Coyotes played minus defenseman Ed Jovanovski. The NHL on Monday suspended Jovanovski for two games for elbowing John Tavares of the New York Islanders in Saturday’s game. Phoenix also scratched Paul Bissonnette. San Jose scratched Jason Demers and Manny Malhotra.
"It was a tough play. I picked it up late coming around the boards and it was spinning and it just took off off my stick and I slipped coming back (to the goal). It might be on the blooper reel tonight."
"We didn't do a good job in the neutral zone. I thought we turned too many pucks over. At times we had jump, but for the most part we were off pace. We weren't ourselves out there."
"On the penalty kill you're trying to get pressure up front. I knew (Rob) Blake got it down low and I was just trying to get a good chase on it and saw the puck bounce out. I'll take those. I'll take them all night."