SAN JOSE – When the Sharks saw the Coyotes less than three weeks ago, the clubs were tied in the standings. Since then, San Jose has managed to build a five-point cushion with a game in hand headed into Saturday night’s rematch.
Gaining even more separation from teams like Arizona, which is trying to chase down the Sharks for a spot in the top three in the Pacific Division, will be the focus.
"You can't let teams hang around,” Tommy Wingels said. “You don't want to look back a month from now and say, 'This game against this team, we should have brought better.'”
Pete DeBoer’s club has 29 games left in the regular season, and owns a one-point lead over third place Anaheim. Vancouver, like the Coyotes, is also five points back.
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“I think you’re in the sprint to the finish line here,” he said. “Everyone is looking at the standings. On our end, we want to separate ourselves from teams like Arizona as much as possible, and on their end, they have to start closing the gap on the teams above them.”
The Sharks put forth a strong effort on Jan. 21 in a 3-1 win at Gila River Arena. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead and withstood a late push from Arizona in the third period that included a Brad Richardson goal.
The Coyotes are led by the likes of shifty rookie forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, grizzled vets like captain Shane Doan, and a skilled defense corps featuring leading-scorer Oliver Ekman-Larsson (41 points).
“The thing that jumps out at me with these guys is speed,” DeBoer said. “Oliver Ekman-Larsson, their offense really runs through him. He was everywhere last time we played them. We’ve got to make sure we contain him.”
Arizona will be playing the second of a back-to-back, after it snapped a five-game losing streak against the Flames at home on Friday, 4-1. The Sharks will try to play a more complete game on Saturday after a miserable first period cost them a point against the Flames in a 6-5 shootout loss on Thursday.
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“That's over with,” Wingels said. “We know how to execute again. We got to find a way to come out strong tonight, and I'm certain we will."
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Brenden Dillon remains out of the lineup with an upper body injury, so it will be Matt Tennyson and Dylan DeMelo again comprising the third defense pair.
On Thursday, DeMelo played his off-side on the left for the first time since October. He struggled there early but was much better against the Flames in 14:36 of ice time, and even scored a power play goal.
“You get more pucks on your backhand and make little adjustments, but I felt better this time playing my left compared to beginning of the year, for sure,” he said.
DeBoer said: “He’s got the head to understand the differences in being on your off-side, and some of the challenges with that. I thought he was good.”
The coach was also complimentary of Tennyson, even though the defenseman played just two shifts in the second half of the game and just 7:48 overall.
“It was a little unfortunate the situation with all the special teams. He didn’t get as much ice as we probably would have like to get him. But, I thought he jumped in, he had good legs, he skated the puck, moved it, defended well,” DeBoer said.
Tennyson, who hadn’t played since Dec. 8, said: “I felt pretty good, so just try and keep it going. Not going to change anything.”
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Brent Burns has not scored a goal in his last 13 games, but against the Flames he generated a whopping 19 shot attempts (including 10 on goal) and ended up tallying two impressive assists.
His cross-ice pass to Logan Couture on a Sharks power play got the team back into the game early in the second period, and later he drove the puck into the zone on a blitzing rush that led to the game-tying goal by Joonas Donskoi.
“I think the goals aren’t going in for him like they were early in the year, but he’s doing everything right for us,” DeBoer said. “He’s creating chances, we get a lot of action off the shots that he gets towards the net for other guys. I’ve liked his game all year, and he’s obviously an important piece for us.”