Considering how tightly packed the Pacific Division standings are, the Sharks and Coyotes postseason lives could conceivably come down to how they do against one another. Strangely, Thursday’s game in Glendale was the first of five matchups between the teams over the next 12 weeks.
First period goals and Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney, and 23 saves from Martin Jones allowed San Jose to get the early edge in the important season series, leading the Sharks to a 3-1 win.
San Jose finds itself in second place in the Pacific Division on Friday morning (24-18-3, 51 points), tied with Vancouver but holding three games in hand on the Canucks, who they also have yet to see. The upstart Coyotes (22-19-5, 49 points) are now two points back and have played one more game than the Sharks.
“Tonight was a big game for us against a divisional team that’s right there with us in the standings,” Wingels told CSN California after the game. “It’s going to be like that the rest of the year here.”
“It’s going to be a long season series versus them, and this was a good way to start off,” Tierney told reporters.
Getting an early lead is always important in today’s NHL, but it’s been particularly vital for San Jose, which improved to 19-2-0 when scoring first, 16-1-0 when leading after the first period, and 16-0-1 when leading after two.
Wingels, who has been struggling to find the scoresheet all season, got it going with just his second goal in 22 games at 6:23, while Tierney followed with another at 9:56 after a strong forecheck by linemate Mike Brown loosened up a puck deep in the Arizona zone.
At that point it looked like it could be a rout, as the Coyotes just couldn’t get anything going. They hung around, though, and made a strong third period push that included Brad Richardson’s goal at 11:24. They couldn’t get another, and Patrick Marleau sealed the Sharks’ conquest with an empty-netter.
“We were happy with our first period but kind of got off the gas pedal as the game went on,” Wingels said. “Credit to them for making a push, but we stayed with it.”
Speaking to reporters after the game, coach Pete DeBoer said: “They got us on our heels but I thought from our goalie to our special teams to the four lines and six defensemen, we got contributions from everybody.”
Martin Jones wasn’t tested often, but made impressive stops on Shane Doan and Tobias Rieder while San Jose was holding it’s 2-0 edge. He again seemed to benefit from added rest, having not playing since the previous Saturday.
Since the Sharks had a five-day break in their schedule at the beginning of the month, Jones has posted a 5-1-0 record while allowing just 11 goals in six games. He’s 14-3-2 on the road with a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage, tied with Washington’s Braden Holtby for the league lead in wins.
While the Sharks are seemingly getting their home game in order, having gone 3-0-1 in the last four at SAP Center, their road game remained strong at Gila River Arena, where they will be once more on March 17.
The Sharks’ 6-0-1 record in their last seven games is their longest point streak since they went 7-0-1 nearly two years ago (March 2-16, 2014).
“We’ve been a good road team all year,” DeBoer said. “I was really comfortable that we were going to show up here and play a good game, so I wasn’t worried about our road game. Our home game is starting to come around too. It is nice though when you win on the road, because this isn’t an easy place to play and they’re a very good team.”
Tierney said: “I think we played pretty well. We stuck to our game plan and I thought we eliminated a lot of their speed and a lot of their skill.”