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Coyotes get first shot this season at Sharks

by Matthew Mankiewich /
COYOTES (15-10-7) at SHARKS (18-11-5)

TV -- FS-A (HD), CSN-CA (HD)

Last 10 --
Phoenix 4-4-2; San Jose 6-3-1

Season series --
It took almost half the season, but these two Pacific Division adversaries finally meet for the first time out of six. Last season the Coyotes took the first games in both buildings, but the Sharks won the other two. Every game was so tight that neither team tallied more than three goals in any of them and the Phoenix wins were by 1-0 and 2-1 scores.

Big story -- The Coyotes continue on their six-game road trip, coming back westward after winding through New York, Long Island, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. They're 1-2-1 in their first four games and have dropped back to an eight-point deficit in the division behind first-place Dallas. Second-place San Jose is only four points ahead and has a three-game winning streak it would like to build on.

Team scope:

Coyotes -- For most Western Conference teams, an eastern swing means a chance to rack up badly-needed points in a super-tight playoff race. Not the Coyotes. They're one of only three Western teams with a losing record versus the East at 2-5-5 and the only one in the Pacific Division. They do a lot better in their own conference with a 13-5-2 mark, and fortunately that's where they'll be playing their next eight games.

So after being lulled to sleep in New Jersey, blowing a pair of two-goal leads in Madison Square Garden and barely escaping Long Island with an extra shootout point, they rolled into Pittsburgh and got steamrolled themselves. Three power-play goals found the net by the 2:50 mark of the second period and the Penguins ran away with a 6-1 win.

"This is unacceptable for our group," coach Dave Tippett said. "We'll address some of the issues we have. That's not who we are right there and that's not who we're gonna be. We'll do whatever we can to fix it."

Sharks -- It's only the second time this season the Sharks have won three in a row, and Tuesday's game with the Oilers was won in fitting fashion given the month of December so far. Calder Trophy candidate Logan Couture scored his 18th goal of the season and Dan Boyle put a bow on it 3:28 later with a power-play tally in a 2-1 win.

Even one of Couture's rivals for the rookie-of-the-year award had positive things to say about the 21-year-old center, who has 10 goals in 11 December games to go with a plus-9 rating. He hasn't been on the minus side since Nov. 30.

"He's a great player and he's a go-to guy for a team like the Sharks," Oilers' No. 1 pick Taylor Hall said. "That says a lot. He has the puck a lot and he's strong down low."

"When I'm standing behind the bench and putting players on the ice," coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News, "I don't hesitate one bit to put Logan out whether it's a five-on-three penalty kill or a power-play situation in the last minute. He's earned that right."

Who's hot -- Couture's numbers produce results for the Sharks, who are 12-1-2 when he scores a goal. Goalie Antero Niittymaki has reaped the benefits as well, as he's won five of his last six starts, going 4-0 in December. … Coyotes forward Wojtek Wolski is starting to heat up with goals in back-to-back games for the first time this season after being benched against the Rangers last Thursday.

Injury report -- Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov remains out with an upper-body injury, which forced Jason LaBarbera to make his third straight start against the Penguins and get pulled after giving up five goals. Forward Taylor Pyatt (upper body) went on injured reserve after taking a shot to the chin in a fight with Penguins enforcer Deryk Engelland. … Sharks defenseman Doug Murray (lower body) has missed five games but may be ready to return Thursday.

Stat pack --
Dan Boyle set a Sharks franchise record in the Edmonton game by scoring his 17th power-play goal in 187 games. Dany Heatley has 10 points in 13 career games versus Phoenix, while Patrick Marleau has 47 in 71. Joe Thornton, however, has 49 points in 45 career meetings with the 'Yotes. Ray Whitney, on the other hand, has 20 points in 21 games versus the Sharks and Jason LaBarbera is 3-6-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average against them.

Puck drop -- "I think we're turning the corner right now. We've got one more game to go before this Christmas break coming up. We've got to focus on Phoenix. I want to go into, and I'm sure everyone else wants to go into, this Christmas break with four wins." -- Couture, in the San Jose Mercury News, talking about extending the Sharks' winning streak to a season-best four games

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