SAN JOSE – In the past eight days headed into Sunday’s meeting with the Coyotes, the Sharks enjoyed some intense, emotional wins over top Eastern Conference teams the Capitals, Bruins and Rangers.
Smack in the middle of those impressive efforts was a loss on Thursday night in Arizona to the Coyotes, who, unlike those three aforementioned clubs, won’t be in the postseason this year.
The Sharks made sure to avoid another letdown, thanks to some fortunate bounces and more steady goaltending from James Reimer in a 3-0 win. It was their fourth straight triumph at home, and ninth in the last 12 overall.
San Jose is 2-0 on its six-game homestand, and evaded falling into the trap of playing down to a mediocre club this time.
“I felt better about this than some of the other situations just because we haven't been traveling,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought our energy was good, and we found a way."
Captain Joe Pavelski identified consecutive first period penalty kills as the vital moment. Justin Braun’s interference minor and Patrick Marleau’s high-sticking infraction gave the Coyotes the first two power plays of the night, including 39 seconds up two men.
Arizona registered just three shots on goal on the extended advantage.
“That really kind of set the defensive tone for us, to get those kills,” Pavelski said.
Paul Martin said: “We wanted to make sure we came out hard and didn’t have a letdown after yesterday’s game, and stay out of the box. Unfortunately that can’t happen at all the time. So, to be able to kill that gives you a little momentum. We were able to play mostly the way we wanted to five-on-five.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks blank Coyotes, on brink of playoff spot]
Starting his fourth game out of the last nine, Reimer was rarely tested but still stopped all 25 shots he saw. He has allowed just five goals in four games with San Jose, and is 3-1-0 with a 1.27 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in teal.
It’s unlikely he saw the kind of defensive effort in front of him very often while with Toronto in recent years.
“It’s hard to take credit for that one tonight, I thought our team played one of the better games I’ve seen them play in a long time, especially with it being a back-to-back,” Reimer said. “I thought they were up, they were skating, and they were outworking them. For me, it was just a matter of sitting back there and watching them do their thing.”
His teammates gave him more credit, even if his night didn’t really require any 10-bell stops.
“J.R. was great tonight for us, which he has been since he’s been here,” Martin said.
DeBoer said: "He was really solid. I thought we did a good job in front of him, letting him see most shots, but he made a couple big saves, too, at the right time.”
The Sharks again got some supplemental offense from their second power play unit, which has converted three times over the last four games. On Sunday it was Tomas Hertl, who curled in a shot off of Connor Murphy that increased the Sharks’ lead to 2-0 before Pavelski’s late empty-net goal.
Joonas Donskoi’s emergence as a playmaker, Joel Ward’s all-around game, and Hertl’s recent uptick have been on display on the second unit.
“Down the stretch here you’re going to need everybody on board, and the power play units – for Tomas to get that was a huge goal for us,” Joe Thornton said. “That kind of broke their back a little bit tonight. Having two units that can go out and score is going to be huge for us.”
Pavelski said: “You need that second unit, that second wave, and they’ve come through huge lately.”
The Sharks will have off on Monday, after wrapping up their latest stretch of four games in six nights, and are back at it on Tuesday against another tough opponent in St. Louis that they should have no problem getting up for.
They are showing signs of getting on a roll, finally, at home.
“As of late we’ve played a lot better. A more complete and consistent effort at home that we would like to see, that we hadn’t for much of the season,” Martin said.