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Coyotes-Sharks Preview @NHLdotcom

The Phoenix Coyotes are hoping their ugly start following the All-Star break isn't indicative of what's to come the rest of the regular season.

The San Jose Sharks' first game back, meanwhile, continued a successful pattern.

After an impressive shutout victory, the Sharks will try to extend their winning streak to four on Thursday night against the visiting Coyotes, whose defense wasn't nearly as impressive in their return to the ice.

San Jose (35-6-5) was the Western Conference's best team in the first half of the season, running away with the Pacific Division thanks in large part to a 22-1-2 record at HP Pavilion.

Evgeni Nabokov hasn't been quite as good as last season when he posted a 2.14 goals-against average and was a Vezina Trophy finalist, but his 2.42 GAA in 2008-09 is fifth among goalies with at least 30 starts.

He's been better recently though, going 5-1-0 with a 1.83 GAA as the Sharks have won six of seven games since Jan. 9. Nabokov helped San Jose start the second half successfully on Tuesday in Colorado, stopping all 31 shots to pick up his third shutout this season in a 3-0 win.

"After five days off you don't know exactly where you will be, you don't know exactly what to expect from the home team," Nabokov said. "But we know what we expect from ourselves. Maybe it wasn't a perfect game, but it was a disciplined game and a smart game."

With All-Stars Joe Thornton (44 assists) and Patrick Marleau (26 goals) leading the way offensively and wingers Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe turning into proven goal scorers, Milan Michalek has sometimes gotten lost in the mix for San Jose.

Lately, though, Michalek has been a consistent threat. The sixth overall selection in the 2003 draft scored twice on Tuesday and has four goals and four assists in his last five games.

"Milan can skate with anybody," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "He may be one of the best skaters in the league."

While Nabokov ensured the Sharks would pick up a win in their first game after the break, the Coyotes (24-20-5) could barely stop anything in their return to action.

Ilya Bryzgalov was routed by his former team, losing 7-3 to visiting Anaheim on Tuesday.

"They just basically wanted to win the game more than we did," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "They outplayed us from start to finish. They got to loose pucks and were physical. They were committed as a team and that's why they won."

The Coyotes are currently holding down one of the West's final playoff spots despite being outscored by 17 goals. St. Louis, which has the fewest points in the conference, has only given up 16 more than it's scored.

One positive for Phoenix was the play of captain Shane Doan. The All-Star leads the Coyotes with 20 goals, but had gone nine games without one before scoring twice against the Ducks.

Doan has a six-game point streak versus San Jose, totaling five goals and five assists. Phoenix has won four of six against the Sharks, including a 4-2 home win on Nov. 9 in which Olli Jokinen scored twice.

San Jose's Joe Pavelski had two goals in a 3-2 Sharks road win over Phoenix on Nov. 29.

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