Winnik said he'd always hear opposing players say how "hard and frustrating" it was to play against the Coyotes, but he didn't truly understand why until he was traded to Colorado the next year and had to face Tippett's team.
"They're extremely patient," Winnik said after Saturday morning's optional skate at HP Pavilion. "The way (Tippett) coaches, they don't care if they ice the puck seven times in a row, their whole bench isn't getting frustrated. They try and slow the game down and make it boring enough that you get disinterested and try plays that create turnovers, and that's where they score their goals.
"It's kind of like playing St. Louis in a sense where they don't give you much, you don't get many shots. That's how St. Louis beats teams as well -- thrive off your turnovers and you getting frustrated by not being able to get to the net and to plays inside."
The Sharks lost all four of its games against St. Louis this season, and they've lost three of four to Phoenix entering Saturday's night's game against the Coyotes at HP Pavilion.
San Jose (84 points) and Phoenix (86) are both fighting for a playoff spot in a wild Western Conference race, and the Sharks need to solve the Coyotes' frustrating defensive puzzle or risk falling farther back.
Phoenix has defeated San Jose three straight times by a combined score of 11-3. Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith had two 3-0 shutouts during that stretch. The Sharks' only win in the series came in the season-opener on Oct. 8, a 6-3 victory at HP.
"After the first game of the year where we got dominated, I think our guys have really tried to hunker down," Tippett said. "You can't give away a lot of free chances. They're a really good team. If you give them extra time in your zone or give them outnumbered rushes, they're going to hurt you. Those are things we have to do to make sure we play a sound game. Again, that's whether it's the Sharks or whoever it is. We've had some success against the Sharks because our goaltending has been very good and we've been able to play a good defending game."
The Coyotes will play their second straight game without captain Shane Doan, who was suspended three games for elbowing Dallas' Jamie Benn in the head on Monday night. With Doan out of the lineup on Thursday night, Phoenix jumped to a 3-0 lead and held on to beat Colorado 3-2.
"He's one of their best players, but the way they play it's a team game, and I think probably out of all the teams in the league they're the least affected by losing a top player just because everyone seems to fill in real well for Tippett," Winnik said. "But he is a big loss. On the power play, they lose his one-timer on that side. He's been a threat for them there. He's really like the heartbeat of the team and obviously the organization because he's been there forever."
Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris, who will play in his 999th career NHL game tonight, said it takes a total team effort to compensate for Doan's absence.
"His leadership he brings in our room is huge," Morris said. "He's on the trip right now with us. He's around because he's the leader of our team. None of us expect any of us to replace him, but we expect all of us to be a little bit better. We can't rely on Shane to score a big goal for us or make a big play for us. The rest of us have to do it ourselves. If we can get five percent more out of each guy to fill in while Shane's out, that will be even better when he comes back."
Smith has been a force Phoenix's past three wins against San Jose, and not only because of his stingy play in goal. He is one of the NHL's most skilled goaltenders in terms of handling pucks and getting them quickly to his defensemen.
"It's definitely helped out," Morris said. "With the new game you see a lot of guys now are just dumping pucks and going and getting them. If they make them a little bit far we know that we don't' have to go back there and get in that battle with that guy because Smitty's going to make a good play out of the zone. We just got to get open for him. You don't even have to yell at him. He sees the play as it's coming in. He knows what he's going to do with it."
The Sharks always stress the importance of getting off to a fast start, but defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said starting quickly is more important against Phoenix than against most teams.
"They try to lull you into their system, their way of playing," Vlasic said. "Especially when they get the lead they're really good at holding the lead. You really want to jump all over them right off the start, maybe the first 10 minutes, jump all over them, get the lead. They're a different team when … they're trailing. When they have to come back, they're opening their system up more, the game more. It's a totally different (team) when they have the lead or don't have the lead."
The Sharks are coming off a 2-1 win Thursday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins that snapped a two-game skid. Their final eight games are against Western Conference teams, including two against Phoenix.
The Sharks will be without forward TJ Galiardi (upper body) for the fifth straight game, but he returned to the ice Saturday morning for the first time in nearly a week.
"Nice to get back out there," Galiardi said. "I don't really know the timetable yet, just kind of playing it day by day, see how it feels. But getting better."
Niemi will make his 14th straight start tonight. He's 0-2-0 against the Coyotes this season with a 3.56 goals-against average.
Smith is 3-1-0 with two shutouts and a 2.27 goals against average vs. the Sharks this season. … Phoenix recalled center Alexandre Bolduc from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.
The Sharks have lost back-to-back games and have tumbled to 10th place in the Western Conference standings. After a four-game skid, the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins have won two straight, including an 8-0 thrashing of Toronto on Monday night, and own the No. 2 seed in the East.
The Sharks, naturally, are in desperation mode, but coach Todd McLellan said they've got find a way to loosen up and stop being so tight on the ice.
"First of all, we understand where we're at," McLellan said after his team's morning skate. "There's an anxiousness around our team which should be there. I feel at times it's a nervousness that holds us back. We have to be able to go out and play free. It's not about one or two individuals carrying the weight of the team on their shoulders, it's about distributing it evenly … and when you do that your team plays well. When you take too much on or not enough on, you have a tendency not to play well."
The Bruins don't have to worry about making the playoffs, but they're fighting to hold off Ottawa, which stands just three points back in the Northeast Division.
"I know they're in a battle for a playoff spot," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the Sharks. "This is a good team across the ice from here. The one thing I do know is that we've gone through the same situation of really struggling to find our game, and eventually when you do, you see what kind of team you really are.
"It's a matter of them doing the same thing, and right now our focus is not to let them have that happen against us - do it against somebody else. But we have to be ready. Everybody's in a fighting mode here and everybody's in a situation where they want to finish as high as they can and some are battling for playoff spots."
Boston will open a three-game California road trip against the Sharks, hoping to build on the strides it made with a 3-2 shootout win against Philadelphia and a rout of the Maple Leafs. Even though they scored eight goals against Toronto, the Bruins pointed to improved defensive play for their two-game turnaround.
"I think we were just playing more Bruins-style hockey, playing with a bit of a chip on our shoulders, going out and competing, winning battles, and I think that's really where we start playing well, when we start competing hard and winning all those little battles wherever they may be," forward Tyler Seguin said. "When we stay consistent with that, after having a good game in Philly, and regardless of the score against Toronto, just to see us competing hard and doing the little things right, that's what makes us happy."
Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said one "challenge" they'll face against San Jose is to avoid being "too high" after their 8-0 win.
"You want to focus on what you did well that game and try to bring it into a game tonight and just build on what you've done well," Seidenberg said. "The last two games have been better. We're still trying to get our consistent game back that we had before our slump the last couple months. Everybody knows we're not out of it yet and we have to keep building."
The Sharks thought they had busted out of their slump when they beat Nashville and Detroit last week. But they followed those two wins with a 5-3 home loss to Anaheim on Monday and a 5-2 loss at Los Angeles the next night.
"We know we're behind the eight-ball and we've got to win some games to get in the playoffs," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton, a former Bruin. "It has to start tonight. We're facing a really good team, so we have to be on our toes, ready to go.
"They're just a complete team, right from the goaltender out. They're flying high off that eight-nothing win last game. We'd like to score early, get some confidence and go from there.''
The Sharks beat Boston 4-2 in October during a 5-1 road trip when they were riding high.
"When we have fun, we usually play well," Thornton said. "We've got to get back to that tonight."
Forward Logan Couture said no one in the Sharks' dressing room has lost faith.
"Everyone in this room believes we're going to be in the playoffs," Couture said. "We're going to make this push down the stretch. We've got nine games to play well and make the push."
The Sharks announced that rookie forward Tommy Wingels is the team's nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
Niemi, despite back-to-back rough games, will make his 13th straight start in goal for the Sharks. Handzus will likely return to the lineup after missing the past six games with a lower body injury. McLellan said there's a chance Wingels (upper body) could return after missing five games. Forward Ryane Clowe and defenseman Dan Boyle didn't practice Thursday morning but will play tonight, McLellan said.
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