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Coyotes hope to finally solve Sharks

by Matthew Mankiewich
COYOTES (25-17-9) at SHARKS (25-19-6)


Last 10 -- Phoenix 6-4-0, San Jose 4-5-1.

Season series -- The Sharks have won the first two of the six-game intra-divisional series, giving the Coyotes a 0-3-3 record against them in their last six meetings. This time, the Coyotes are the visiting team, a position that has served them well lately.

Big story -- The Western Conference begins the second half almost the same way it began the first, it's that tight. The Coyotes are in sixth place in the playoff race, only one point out of the fourth seed and six points behind Pacific Division-leading Dallas and the third seed. The Sharks are in very unfamiliar territory, as a three-way tie in points with Chicago and Colorado has them tenuously in the eighth spot. As they learned themselves, a streak one way or the other can change things dramatically.

Team scope:

Coyotes -- Call them the Phoenix Road Warriors, as the Coyotes have five straight wins under their belts away from Arena, while the home digs have hosted four straight losses, all within the conference. With 17 of their last 30 games in Glendale, it behooves them to change that up a bit.

"We've gotten timely goals and there's a combination of things that have been the recipe for success," coach Dave Tippett said. "At home we need to get a simpler approach, a harder approach - it seems to give our team a better chance to win."

The All-Star break came in handy as well. They've played 18 games in 32 days, one of the more compressed stretches in the League, and may have contributed to a recent rash of injuries.

Sharks -- It wasn't quite the fall they've experienced before after a winning streak, but the 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings just before the break was still disappointing as it foiled a chance at a season-first five-game roll.

"I think we came to play," coach Todd McLellan said. "The effort was there, the grinding part of the game was there, but I don't think we were sharp enough to win."

Tuesday represents a last chance to take advantage of home ice at the Shark Tank before embarking on a season-high seven-game road trip. They'll only have three home dates in 13 games the entire month of February.

Who's hot -- Antti Niemi played a big role in the Sharks' 4-0-1 stretch, maintaining a 1.94 goals-against average over the five games. Logan Couture extended his point streak to four games, a string that began against the Coyotes in a 4-2 win on Jan. 17. Patrick Marleau played his 1,000th NHL game in Phoenix and will be honored at HP Pavilion Tuesday for reaching the milestone.

Coyotes All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle has the longest active point streak in the NHL at nine games and continues to lead all defensemen with 40 points. Ironically, he was one of a small number of skaters not to get a point in the All-Star Game on Sunday. Forward Lee Stempniak has 11 points over a seven-game streak.

Injury report -- Coyotes defenseman David Schlemko (upper body) is expected to be out another week after taking a head shot from the Sharks' Scott Nichol two weeks ago. Nichol has served out the resulting four-game suspension. Defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body) missed the last three games before the break, while forward Vernon Fiddler (upper body) remains on injured reserve after appearing to injure his shoulder in a fight with the Ducks' Mat Beleskey Jan. 15.

Sharks goalie Antero Niittymaki (lower body) and forward Torrey Mitchell (lower body) practiced on Monday, but neither is expected to play.

Stat pack -- Ilya Bryzgalov has a 2.13 GAA in his last four starts against the Sharks -- and has a 0-3-1 record to show for it. Jason LaBarbera has made only one of his last 13 starts at home and has also lost his last four starts to the Sharks. For all their road prowess this season, the Coyotes have lost three in a row at HP Pavilion and are 3-8-2 over their last 13 games there.

Puck drop -- "In the past, we've been comfortably in first, or at least comfortably in the playoffs," McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "We were worrying about different things at that point – the fatigue factor, injuries, home ice. That's not the case now. We have to compete for 32 games."

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