By: Chad Lynch
Photos courtesy of the San Jose Sharks
(Don Smith & Rocky Widner)
On Thursday night, the Coyotes continued their dominance over the rival Sharks with a 5-2 win in San Jose.
In the opening minutes of the first period, the Coyotes tried to hold the Sharks offense in-check by stepping up the physical play on San Jose's forwards every time they touched the puck. Leading the charge was the line of Mike Ricci, Tyson Nash and Josh Gratton, who took their opening assignment against the Sharks top line, which includes Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo.
Phoenix's physical play led to offensive chances of their own in the first period, including a pair of odd-man rushes into the Sharks zone, but every shot put on net was turned aside by netminder Evgeni Nabokov.
At 6:35 of the first, the Coyotes took their first turn on the penalty kill as Mike Comrie was sent to the penalty box for tripping San Jose's Ville Niemenen. Early in the Comrie penalty, the Sharks were able to apply pressure on goaltender Curtis Joseph with a trio of shots from deep in the offensive zone, but smart play by the Coyotes penalty killers and timely saves kept San Jose off the scoreboard and allowed Phoenix to return to full strength.
With just under nine-minutes left in the opening frame, the Sharks nearly took the first lead of the game when a three-on-two rush into the Coyotes zone saw
The Sharks would eventually capture the first goal of the game when a clearing attempt by Ricci was intercepted by San Jose's Steve Bernier, who fed a pass over to Milan Michalek that was then fired under the legs of Joseph, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
San Jose's early lead would only last 89-seconds as a blast off the stick of Oleg Kvasha at 13:55 of the period, beat Nabokov to tie the game at 1-1. The goal was Kvasha's 13th of the season and fourth since joining the Coyotes on March 9th.
The first period scoring would continue at 15:56 of the period when San Jose's Steve Bernier took a perfect pass from Milan Michalek at the top of the Phoenix crease and tapped the puck past the outstretched leg of Joseph to give the Sharks back the lead at 2-1.
On the face-off following the goal by Bernier, Phoenix's Josh Gratton looked to give his teammates a little boost as he dropped the gloves with San Jose's Scott Thornton. The undersized and under-dogged Gratton made Thornton reconsider his decision to "throw down" with the rookie as Gratton tagged Thornton with a series of blows before he finally threw the San Jose forward to the ice and piled on top in a show of victory.
Following the fisticuffs, the final minutes of the period ticked off the clock without incident as the Coyotes headed into the locker room after one period of play, trailing by the score of 2-1.
Following an offensive heavy first period, the start of the second period was strangely quiet on the offensive front as both clubs struggled to put pucks on-net.
The Coyotes went back on the penalty kill at the five-minute mark of the period when defenseman Matthew Spiller was called for hooking. On the ensuing power play, the Sharks did a good job of getting the puck deep in the Phoenix zone and moving the puck around the zone, but ultimately, were unable to get their limited shots past "Cujo" as the score remained 2-1.
Phoenix began to apply pressure on the Sharks deep in their own zone as the period approached the halfway mark and the added pressure paid off for the Coyotes at 8:40 of the frame when San Jose's Scott Thornton was sent to the box for hooking. The Coyotes tried to turn-up the offensive attack with the extra attacker, but the best scoring opportunity during the Thornton penalty came for the shorthanded Sharks when Milan Michalek took a loose puck and raced into the Phoenix zone and tried to pick the corner on Joseph, but saw his shot go wide of the net as the penalty expired without change to the score.
With 8:47 to play in the second, Derek Morris was sent to the box on a questionable hooking call. Making matters worse, after the Coyotes had killed off 1:21 of the Morris penalty, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg was called for tripping after he broke-up a breakaway by the Sharks Jonathan Cheechoo. With 39-seconds of five-on-three penalty kill facing them, the Coyotes defense buckled down and played basic hockey, clearing the puck and keeping the front of the net clear, just to get back to five-on-four hockey.
Just 27-seconds into the Seidenberg penalty, Phoenix caught a break as San Jose forward Nils Ekman was called for interference, taking some of the pressure of the Coyotes penalty-killing unit.
With both teams skating four skaters aside, the Coyotes were able to take advantage of the extra ice when Zbynek Michalek's shot fro the left side was stopped by Nabokov, but he couldn't control the rebound, which came out to an open Steven Reinprecht, who promptly fired the puck past Nabokov for his 17th goal of the season, tying the game at 2-2.
Phoenix had a great chance to take their first lead of the game with 3:30 to play in the second, when Mike Johnson broke loose for a shorthanded breakaway. Johnson tried twice to stuff the puck through the legs of Nabokov, but was unable to find the back of the net, keeping the game tied at 2-2.
The Coyotes were handed a late power play when Ekman made his second trip to the box of the period, this time for tripping at 19:39 of the stanza. Phoenix wouldn't be able to convert in the final seconds of the period, but would head off the ice after 40-minutes of play tied at 2-2 and having 1:39 of power play time awaiting them to start the third period.
The Coyotes made the most of the power play that they began the final period with as captain Shane Doan made a perfect cross-ice pass from just inside the San Jose zone to a streaking Reinprecht, who broke in on Nabokov, moved the puck from his forehand to the backhand and roofed a shot over the glove of the Sharks goalie to put Phoenix on top for the first time in the contest by the score of 3-2.
Phoenix went back on the power play at 2:54 of the third when San Jose's Matt Carle was assessed a two-minute minor for interference. With the man-advantage, the Coyotes generated good pressure, highlighted by a flurry that saw Phoenix put three quality shots on net, but Nabokov was able to hold the fort for San Jose and keep the Coyotes lead at 3-2 as the penalty to Carle expired.
The Coyotes and Sharks traded places at 6:01 of the third when Phoenix's Tyson Nash was called for hooking, giving San Jose an important power play. With the extra attacker, the Sharks dominated play for the next two minutes, keeping the puck in the Coyotes zone and testing Joseph with the toughest shots he had faced al night up to that point. But despite the crashing bodies in the crease and the relentless pressure from the Shark, "Cujo" refused to give an inch as he covered pucks in the crease and made saves on every shot to keep Phoenix in the lead until they returned to full strength.
Once back at full strength, the Coyotes showed some offensive flair of their own when Mike Johnson and Oleg Kvasha entered the San Jose zone on a two-on-one. Johnson, carrying the puck, held on until the last possible second, at which time he wound-up and blasted a slap shot over the glove hand of Nabokov and into the top corner of the net to give the Coyotes a 4-2 lead. Johnson's 15th goal of the season, scored at 10:03 of the third, was unassisted.
For the majority of the remaining third period, the Coyotes had to hold off the non-stop attack of the Sharks as they tried everything to cut the Coyotes lead in half, but Joseph was simply unbeatable no matter who was taking the shot or where it was coming from.
The Sharks pulled Nabokov from the net with just over a minute to play in a last ditch attempt to find some late offense, but the only offense to come was from the Coyotes and Mike Comrie, who tapped the puck into the empty net with 31-seconds left in regulation to seal a 5-2 victory for the Coyotes.
#31 FOR #31
On Thursday night, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Curtis Joseph continued his stellar play against San Jose when he recorded his 31st career victory over the Sharks.
"Cujo" made 27 saves on Thursday and improved to 4-0-1 against San Jose this season.
HITTING THE CENTURY MARK
In Thursday's 5-2 victory over San Jose, Coyotes center Mike Comrie scored his 27th goal of the season when he slid the puck into an empty Sharks goal with 31-seconds left in regulation. The goal was also Comrie's 100th of his NHL career. Over his five-year NHL career, Comrie has registered 61 goals as an Edmonton Oiler, 4 goals with the Philadelphia Flyers and 35 since joining the Coyotes during the 2003-04 season.