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Coyotes-Sharks Preview

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Coyotes-Sharks Preview

GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (18-17-2) at San Jose Sharks (15-15-5).

TIME: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

After a five-game absence, Wayne Gretzky returns to coach the Phoenix Coyotes when they visit the San Jose Sharks.

Gretzky took a leave of absence from the team on Dec. 17 to be with his ailing mother. Phyllis Gretzky died two days later at the age of 64 after a year-long battle with lung cancer, and Gretzky was by her side.

The NHL's career scoring leader and also the Coyotes managing general partner, Gretzky had led Phoenix to a 16-14-2 record in his first season as coach before stepping away. Assistant Rick Tocchet went 2-3-0 in his absence.

"I am excited to be back behind the bench," Gretzky said in a statement released by the team. "I am very fortunate to have a great coaching staff and would like to thank Rick Tocchet, Barry Smith and Rick Bowness for all their help while I was away with my family. I would also like to thank (co-owner) Steve Ellman for all his support and my players for all their hard work and understanding throughout this difficult time."

His players are hoping to bounce back from a bad performance to give Gretzky a win in his return.

Phoenix scored the game's first three goals on Monday against Colorado, only to lose 7-4. It was the Coyotes' fifth loss in seven games and the most goals they have given up all season.

"You learn that you don't sit on leads," said right wing Shane Doan, who scored two goals.

The Sharks also are coming off a poor effort, allowing three power-play goals in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

San Jose was shorthanded nine times, tying a season worst, and finished with 23 penalty minutes. The Sharks had been shorthanded a league-low 164 times entering Monday, averaging just 12.8 penalty minutes.

San Jose also was shorthanded nine times Dec. 20 against Anaheim and gave up two power-play goals, but Jonathan Cheechoo's hat trick helped the Sharks to a 4-2 victory.

Cheechoo scored two power-play goals Monday, but the Sharks lost for the fourth time in five games after winning six straight following the acquisition of center Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins.

In an effort to jump-start an offense that has scored five goals in the last three games, Sharks coach Ron Wilson said he will put Nils Ekman on a new line with Thornton and Cheechoo.

"(Ekman) is a great player who will fit in just fine with our line," Thornton said. "It's good to change things up once in a while. It is always a spark when you change lines. Usually it works out pretty good."

Cheechoo leads the team with 18 goals, including eight in his last seven games.

Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren returned to the lineup Monday after missing five games following arthroscopic knee surgery.

STANDINGS: Coyotes - 38 points, 3rd place (tied), 9 PB, Pacific Division. Sharks - 35 points, 5th place, 12 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Mike Comrie, 13 goals; Ladislav Nagy, 25 assists and 37 points; Sean O'Donnell, 71 PIM. Sharks - Cheechoo, 18 goals; Thornton, 38 assists and 50 points; Mark Smith, 53 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Coyotes - Power play: 18.0 percent (44 for 244), 14th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (189 for 231), 17th. Sharks - Power play: 15.6 percent (33 for 212), 20th (tied). Penalty killing: 81.5 percent (141 for 173), 20th.

GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Curtis Joseph (15-10-0, 2 SO, 2.47 GAA); Brian Boucher (1-2-0, 2.82). Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (8-10-5, 2.95); Vesa Toskala (2-4-0, 4.47).

SEASON SERIES: Coyotes, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Thursday; Coyotes, 2-1. At Glendale, Ariz., Joseph stopped 20 of 21 shots, including a late flurry in the closing minutes, to lead Phoenix.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 8-10-1 on the road; Sharks - 9-3-3 at home.


Associated Press
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