SAN JOSE – Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith has become quite the nemesis of the San Jose Sharks.
Smith shut out the Sharks three times in 2011-12, and picked up right where he left off in his first appearance of the season series on Saturday afternoon at HP Pavilion. He entered the game looking for retribution for a terrible outing on Thursday against Chicago, when he was pulled after allowing six goals in less than two periods.
He got it.
Smith made 33 saves and stopped shootout attempts by Michal Handzus and James Sheppard in handing San Jose its fourth straight loss, 1-0 in a shootout. The Sharks are 0-2-2 during the losing streak.
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“We didn’t really read too much into him tonight, to be honest,” Ryane Clowe said. “He was just in there again making great saves.”
Joe Thornton said: “He’s a good goalie. He’s big, patient, he’s playing deep, and he’s great playing the puck, too.”
The Sharks wasted a shutout performance by their own goaltender, as Antti Niemi made 21 saves but allowed Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata to score in the shootout. The Sharks had the better of the chances throughout the game, but could not put one in against Smith.
No single player had more opportunities than Clowe, who finished with a game high seven shots but is still looking for his first goal of the season. Smith repeatedly denied Clowe, who was the most effective Sharks forward while skating on a line with Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
“I had a ton of chances around the net, little short, jam plays. I don’t really recall playing a whole lot in my own end tonight as a line, and we did everything but score,” Clowe said. “Getting around there and getting chances around the net was something I really focused on.”
Thornton said: “We’ve played two games together, and he’s had a lot of good cracks at the net and good looks at the net. Eventually, they’ll go in. He’s a good enough player, he’s just got to stay patient and keep shooting.”
Todd McLellan praised Clowe’s effort, as well as the performance of his third line of Handzus, Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard. He hinted that there were some Sharks players that weren’t exactly mimicking Clowe’s assertiveness in the dirty areas of the ice.
“We’ll look to see how hard we’re going to the net, and if we’re going there with any type of passion, or if we’re just going there because we’re told to go there. We’ll solve that problem,” said the coach.
The power play was a let down again, too. The Sharks had more than a minute of carryover time with a man advantage early in the third, and failed to score on a pair of delay of game minors to the Coyotes later in the frame.
Overall, the Sharks are just 1-for-24 in the last six games on the power play, essentially nullifying their remarkable streak of 34 consecutive penalty kills.
“The power play, of course, was not as sharp as it needs to be,” McLellan said. “We’ll have to look at the personnel and move some people around. Obviously, it’s not working with the groups we have.”
The game marked the return of defenseman Brent Burns, who missed the first 10 games with what the team called a lower body injury. Burns had offseason sports hernia/groin surgery, but was medically cleared by the club on Oct. 9, leaving some unanswered questions as to what was ailing the 27-year-old (Burns declined to talk about it after the game).
Burns, paired with Brad Stuart, skated more than 20 minutes, including 2:09 on the power play. He had one shot on goal, and committed a slashing minor with 20 seconds left in overtime that was killed off.
“A little bit of a blur in the first period. Then you kind of get into it a little bit,” Burns said. “It was pretty much what I expected. You just try to play simple. Stuey was obviously a big help and a lot of talk, and it’s good to get the first one.”
McLellan described Burns’ performance as, “I don’t want to say tentative early, but adjusting. It took him probably about 10 minutes, and then I thought he was very good. He skated well, used his legs, moved pucks, his shot was dangerous. We’re happy to have him back.”
The logjam on the blue line forced the Sharks to reassign impressive rookie Matt Irwin to Worcester, as well as pull Douglas Murray from the lineup. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dan Boyle, Jason Demers and Justin Braun rounded out the top six.
“I thought as a group they played pretty solid,” McLellan said. “The power play [struggles], and [Murray] isn’t a big part of it, Boyler and Burnzie and Demers all have a part in that. It has to get better.
“But, I thought for the most part they were consistent and played well. We’ll have some tough decisions to make now, day in and day out on the trip.”
The Sharks left immediately after the game for Columbus, OH, where they will practice on Sunday while getting used to the time zone change. San Jose will try and end its string of six games without a regulation win (2-2-2) on Monday against the lowly Blue Jackets.
In the meantime, they’ll try not to have nightmares about Smith, who now has four shutouts in his last seven starts against San Jose.
“There’s a reason why they went to the final four last year, and he’s a big part of it,” McLellan said.