By: Chad Lynch
(Photos courtesy of Norm Hall)
On Wednesday night, the Coyotes dropped a 1-0 decision at the hands of division rivals, the San Jose Sharks. Despite the loss, the Coyotes played what could have been their best preseason game of the 2005-06 season up to this point as they killed off 10 penalties and dominated the play for much of the game.
In the opening period, the Coyotes relied heavily on starting netminder Curtis Joseph who made 11 of his 24 stops in the opening frame.
"Our whole team played really well tonight, especially Curtis," said Phoenix defenseman Paul Mara. "He made some really big saves throughout the night that kept us in the game."
The lone goal of the game came in the second period when San Jose's Scott Thornton was able to get a rebound at the left side of the net and lift it top shelf for the goal.
"I had just made the initial save and I got the rebound past the first guy, but he (Thornton) was standing right behind him and he put it right where he needed to," said Joseph.
The Coyotes also showed improvement in their penalty killing units, an area which the club focused on this week in practice.
"I thought our penalty killing was very good tonight," said Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky. "We had a few calls that were borderline, but when they went against us, our guys really focused on the task at hand and they did it for a full 60 minutes."
Defenseman Keith Ballard, who saw nearly 3:30 of penalty killing time, noted that a strong penalty kill is a high priority for the Coyotes this season.
"Our penalty killing units did a great job," said Ballard. "That is something that all good teams have and it is really a base for their success. I think the effort we showed tonight is an indication that we want to make our penalty killing one of our strengths and use that to be successful."
Joseph also recognized that the Coyotes improved penalty-killing unit was a spark for the team, especially after being able to kill off a some big penalties in the opening period.
"Early in the game we got into some penalty trouble," said Joseph. "We had a couple five-on-three's in the first ten minutes of the game and that is a situation where you can either get yourself in a hole that is hard to get out of or you can kill them off and build on the momentum and that is what we did tonight."
Overall the Coyotes players and coaches were pleased with the effort on Wednesday.
"Every guy in this locker room played hard tonight and they did it for the entire game," said Mara. " I can't say enough about the effort we showed as a team."
FIGHTING THE TRAP
In Wednesday's game, the Coyotes had to find ways around the trapping style of defense that San Jose plays. While the new enforcement of the rules helped the Coyotes offensively, they were still forced to be more creative with the puck than normal.
"That is just the way they (San Jose) plays," said Mike Leclerc. "They have gotten very good at that trapping game over the past few years and it forces you to do some things offensively that you may not need to do in other games, but I thought we were pretty successful. We got our chances, now we just need to put a few more of them in the net."
Coyote forward Tyson Nash was a late scratch for Wednesday's game due to an undisclosed injury.
"It is was a situation where he has a minor injury and we need him more next Wednesday for opening night than we do for an exhibition game," said Gretzky.
Nash will be re- eval uated on Thursday. He is currently listed as day-to-day.
LENEVEU TO START FRIDAY
Phoenix goaltender David LeNeveu is slated to start on Friday when the Coyotes travel to San Jose for the second game in a home-and-home series with the Sharks. It will be LeNeveu's first start since the Coyotes' second preseason game on September 17, 2005 at Minnesota.
"He has worked very hard in camp and in practice," said Gretzky. "For the last few days he has basically been practicing with both groups, but I told him he was a young kid and he could handle it," laughed Gretzky.
Following Wednesday's game, the Coyotes and Sharks held a three-on-three shootout. The league has scheduled the shootouts at the conclusion of every preseason game as part of an attempt to generate excitement among fans.
In Wednesday's contest, the Coyotes defeated the Sharks 1-0 in the shootout, with the only goal coming from Ladislav Nagy. Petr Nedved was the only other Coyote participate in the event as Joseph stopped shots by San Jose's Marco Sturm, Ryan Clowe and Scott Thornton to capture the victory.
LEADER OF THE PACK
For the second consecutive home game, Coyotes defenseman David Tanabe led the team in total ice time with 23:36.
The Coyotes will practice at Glendale Arena on Thursday before flying to San Jose on Friday. Friday's game, a re-match against the Sharks, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.