SAN JOSE - San Jose Sharks forward Daniel Winnik played for Phoenix two years ago during coach Dave Tippett's first season with the Coyotes.
Winnik said he'd always hear opposing players say how "hard and frustrating" it was to play against the Coyotes, but he didn't truly understand why until he was traded to Colorado the next year and had to face Tippett's team.
"They're extremely patient," Winnik said after Saturday morning's optional skate at HP Pavilion. "The way (Tippett) coaches, they don't care if they ice the puck seven times in a row, their whole bench isn't getting frustrated. They try and slow the game down and make it boring enough that you get disinterested and try plays that create turnovers, and that's where they score their goals.
"It's kind of like playing St. Louis in a sense where they don't give you much, you don't get many shots. That's how St. Louis beats teams as well -- thrive off your turnovers and you getting frustrated by not being able to get to the net and to plays inside."
The Sharks lost all four of its games against St. Louis this season, and they've lost three of four to Phoenix entering Saturday's night's game against the Coyotes at HP Pavilion.
San Jose (84 points) and Phoenix (86) are both fighting for a playoff spot in a wild Western Conference race, and the Sharks need to solve the Coyotes' frustrating defensive puzzle or risk falling farther back.
Phoenix has defeated San Jose three straight times by a combined score of 11-3. Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith had two 3-0 shutouts during that stretch. The Sharks' only win in the series came in the season-opener on Oct. 8, a 6-3 victory at HP.
"After the first game of the year where we got dominated, I think our guys have really tried to hunker down," Tippett said. "You can't give away a lot of free chances. They're a really good team. If you give them extra time in your zone or give them outnumbered rushes, they're going to hurt you. Those are things we have to do to make sure we play a sound game. Again, that's whether it's the Sharks or whoever it is. We've had some success against the Sharks because our goaltending has been very good and we've been able to play a good defending game."
The Coyotes will play their second straight game without captain Shane Doan, who was suspended three games for elbowing Dallas' Jamie Benn in the head on Monday night. With Doan out of the lineup on Thursday night, Phoenix jumped to a 3-0 lead and held on to beat Colorado 3-2.
"He's one of their best players, but the way they play it's a team game, and I think probably out of all the teams in the league they're the least affected by losing a top player just because everyone seems to fill in real well for Tippett," Winnik said. "But he is a big loss. On the power play, they lose his one-timer on that side. He's been a threat for them there. He's really like the heartbeat of the team and obviously the organization because he's been there forever."
Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris, who will play in his 999th career NHL game tonight, said it takes a total team effort to compensate for Doan's absence.
"His leadership he brings in our room is huge," Morris said. "He's on the trip right now with us. He's around because he's the leader of our team. None of us expect any of us to replace him, but we expect all of us to be a little bit better. We can't rely on Shane to score a big goal for us or make a big play for us. The rest of us have to do it ourselves. If we can get five percent more out of each guy to fill in while Shane's out, that will be even better when he comes back."
Smith has been a force Phoenix's past three wins against San Jose, and not only because of his stingy play in goal. He is one of the NHL's most skilled goaltenders in terms of handling pucks and getting them quickly to his defensemen.
"It's definitely helped out," Morris said. "With the new game you see a lot of guys now are just dumping pucks and going and getting them. If they make them a little bit far we know that we don't' have to go back there and get in that battle with that guy because Smitty's going to make a good play out of the zone. We just got to get open for him. You don't even have to yell at him. He sees the play as it's coming in. He knows what he's going to do with it."
The Sharks always stress the importance of getting off to a fast start, but defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said starting quickly is more important against Phoenix than against most teams.
"They try to lull you into their system, their way of playing," Vlasic said. "Especially when they get the lead they're really good at holding the lead. You really want to jump all over them right off the start, maybe the first 10 minutes, jump all over them, get the lead. They're a different team when … they're trailing. When they have to come back, they're opening their system up more, the game more. It's a totally different (team) when they have the lead or don't have the lead."
The Sharks are coming off a 2-1 win Thursday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins that snapped a two-game skid. Their final eight games are against Western Conference teams, including two against Phoenix.
The Sharks will be without forward TJ Galiardi (upper body) for the fifth straight game, but he returned to the ice Saturday morning for the first time in nearly a week.
"Nice to get back out there," Galiardi said. "I don't really know the timetable yet, just kind of playing it day by day, see how it feels. But getting better."
Here's how the lineups could look Saturday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion:
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Dominic Moore - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Jason Demers - Justin Braun
Niemi will make his 14th straight start tonight. He's 0-2-0 against the Coyotes this season with a 3.56 goals-against average.
Mikkel Boedker - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Ray Whitney - Antoine Vermette - Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule
Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Paul Bissonnette
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav Klesla - Michael Stone
Smith is 3-1-0 with two shutouts and a 2.27 goals against average vs. the Sharks this season. … Phoenix recalled center Alexandre Bolduc from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.