Programming note: Sharks-Coyotes coverage begins on Comcast SportsNet Plus at 7 p.m. Channel listings.
PHOENIX – There aren’t many opposing players that have dominated the San Jose Sharks recently like Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, who in all likelihood will make his second appearance of the season against San Jose on Monday night at Jobing.com Arena.
Smith kept San Jose off of the board for all 65 minutes in a 0-0 tie through regulation on Feb. 9 at HP Pavilion. He denied Michal Handzus and James Sheppard in the shootout, while Antti Niemi allowed two Coyotes to convert, giving Phoenix the extra point in the standings. An upper body injury kept Smith out of the most recent game on March 30, a 3-2 Sharks shootout win.
Smith also shut out the Sharks three times last season, and he’s blanked San Jose in four of the last six games he’s opposed them. He’s 5-0-1 with a minuscule 0.99 goals-against average and .943 save percentage over that span.
The cliché answers on how to beat a goaltender are well known, including getting more pucks to the net and getting more traffic around the crease. Is there anything else, though, that the Sharks can do differently to try and beat the man who is turning into their nemesis?
Puck placement is key.
“I don’t think we play enough in their zone, so the volume of quality scoring chances isn’t as high as it should be,” Todd McLellan said. “In large part, that’s due to us giving the puck up, and him being able to come out and play it and get going the other way.
“When you look at it, the volume of shots, the volume of time, the volume of quality scoring chances goes down when we don’t get on the forecheck. It’s not because we don’t want to go, it’s because of where we place the puck. He’s got it on his tape, and out it goes.”
Raffi Torres, who played with Smith for one and a half seasons, had another suggestion.
“We’ve got to do a good job of getting pucks to the net, and throwing it at his feet,” Torres said. “He’s a big goalie, so it might take him a little longer to get down. Second and third chances will be huge tonight.”
Niemi figures his counterpart has extra confidence against San Jose due to the recent success.
“Sometimes, you have some teams that you remember having some good games, and have better memories from the games. It’s maybe easier to go [against] those teams,” Niemi said.
The Sharks will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak in Phoenix. They are a middling 6-5-2 against Pacific Division teams this season.
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Torres will be playing in Phoenix for the first time since the Coyotes shipped him to San Jose at the trade deadline in exchange for a third round pick.
“Once you’re on the ice, it’s part of your game to go out there and play hard. That’s my job,” Torres said. “I’ve got to worry about getting my game going and doing the right stuff out there that’s going to get me going into the second season (playoffs).”
In four games with his new team, Torres has two assists and two penalty minutes and an even rating.
How does he think it’s going so far as a Shark?
“It’s alright. I think I could be a little bit more offensive,” he said. “I feel like I’m still bringing energy. I’d like to find the puck a little bit more.”
McLellan said: “He’s done the things we’ve asked him to do, or that we’ve expected from him.”
Torres got a chance to see his wife and two young kids on Sunday, and they’re relocating to San Jose on Wednesday for the remainder of the season. He's due to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
“He’s a quiet guy to begin with, but he’s starting to open up more,” McLellan said. “I think he’s integrated into the group and guys are having fun with him. This portion of the trip I think was important for him just to see his kids and his wife. I know they’re going to be coming later this week so that will make him more comfortable.”
“They’ve been good through it all. It’s part of the gig,” Torres said.
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The Sharks could put a major dent in Phoenix’s playoff chances with a win. With 43 points (18-16-7) the Coyotes sit in 11th place in the West, four points out of eighth place.
San Jose still has home ice in the first round in its sights, too. The Sharks (21-13-7, 49 points) trail Los Angeles by three points with a game in hand.
“That’s something we’d like to do,” Tommy Wingels said. “For us, there is still home ice advantage we can still obtain here.”
The Sharks are 14-1-5 at HP Pavilion and 7-12-2 on the road.
“Our home record speaks for itself this year, and I think we’ve got the greatest fans and atmosphere in the league. I think every team wants to play at home,” Wingels said.
The Sharks are wrapping up a four-game trip in Phoenix after losing two of the first three, including 2-1 in Dallas on Saturday. The Sharks were shut out 4-0 in Columbus last Tuesday, and beat the Red Wings in a shootout, 3-2, on Thursday.
“Not ready to play in Columbus and didn’t compete, a very good night in Detroit, and I thought a pretty good night in Dallas,” McLellan summarized.