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Coyotes hope to take bite out of Sharks' division lead

by Brian Hunter
SHARKS (29-10-7) at COYOTES (26-15-5)

Last 10:
San Jose 8-2-0; Phoenix 5-2-3

Season series: Fifth of six meetings this season between the top two teams in the Pacific Division. Each team has won twice -- once at home and once on the road -- and three of the four games have gone to shootouts. Phoenix started off with a pair of victories, 1-0 in a shootout on Oct. 12 and 2-1 on Dec. 12 in the only game decided in regulation. San Jose responded by taking a pair of shootouts on Dec. 28 and 31, both by 3-2 scores. The final meeting isn't until April 10 at the Shark Tank.

Big story:
It might've been a well-kept secret back in October, but the Sharks understand by now that the Coyotes are for real. Any doubt about that was erased when Ilya Bryzgalov and his teammates blanked San Jose on its home ice 1-0 in their first matchup, and all four games this season have been decided by a single goal. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see a similar result Tuesday.

Team Scope:

Dan Boyle and Dany Heatley scored goals to get San Jose off to a strong start in Los Angeles on Monday and Evgeni Nabokov brought it home from there, finishing with 33 saves in a 2-1 win. The Sharks beat the Kings for just the second time in five tries this season and paid them back for an embarrassing 6-2 loss at the Shark Tank one week earlier.

"They've dominated us so far this year," Boyle said. "The first two periods, I thought we were in their zone, and we got a lot of shots on net and a lot of traffic. They fought back, but it was a better effort on our part."

Coyotes: It's been a bit of a rough stretch in Phoenix of late, as the Coyotes are just 2-2-3 dating back to their first shootout loss against the Sharks. They also fell in the penalty-shot tiebreaker to the Islanders in their most recent game Saturday, 5-4, though it could be considered a good point because they rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period.

"We stopped playing our hockey, and we had too many turnovers in the neutral zone and they buried their chances," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "But I think we battled hard. We didn't give up. That's who we are."

Who's hot:
Heatley now has 26 goals, fifth in the League and three behind Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for the lead. Boyle has a goal and three assists during a three-game points streak. … Matthew Lombardi has a goal and four assists in his last five games for the Coyotes.

Injury report:
San Jose forward Manny Malhotra hasn't played since Dec. 31 due to a lower-body injury. … Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovski will miss the next two games due to a suspension for an elbowing incident against New York. Forward Scottie Upshall has been activated from injured reserve and expects to play Tuesday. Defenseman Kurt Sauer (head) hasn't played since opening night.

Stat pack: Third-year Coyotes forward Peter Mueller picked up just his second goal of the season and first since Nov. 5 against New York. … Joe Thornton of the Sharks picked up his League-leading 48th assist on Heatley's goal Monday.

Puck drop:
Phoenix trails San Jose by eight points starting play Tuesday while holding a four-point lead over Los Angeles for second place in the Pacific. The Coyotes can climb a little closer to the top and create some added separation between themselves and the Kings with a win Tuesday.

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