The Arizona Coyotes feasted on a weak Pacific Division early in the 2015-16 NHL season, but fallen off as their rivals have improved. The San Jose Sharks were the latest part of that paradigm shift at the SAP Center Saturday, Feb. 13.
San Jose naturally had most of the pictured stars of the game and looked like a team riding momentum. Arizona looked similarly subject to inertia that was unfortunately going backward.
The Coyotes had lost three in a row in regulation against Pacific Division opponents before a win over the struggling Calgary Flames Friday, taking advantage of an opponent coming off a shootout win over the Sharks Thursday. Before those losses, the inter-divisional record was 12-2-2.
Even with Thursday’s shootout loss, San Jose came into this contest 10-2-3 in its last 15 games. It was still just 10-12-3 at home over the entire 2015-16 NHL season, but had not lost in regulation in any of the last eight (5-0-3).
This time it was the Coyotes being taken advantage of the day after playing another Pacific Division opponent. The Sharks controlled the play by winning most of the battles that do not show up in its event summary possession statistics: 30-32 faceoffs, 16-5 giveaways and just 8-4 takeaways, yet a 12-17 deficit in hits and edges of 63-52 in attempts and 28-23 in shots on goal.
A more distinct advantage San Jose had was blocking shots, with a 21-18 edge seeming modest until the higher number of attempts and shots is considered. That should have resulted in fewer blocks, as evidenced by the superior percentage of attempts blocked (40.4 vs. 28.6 percent) and shots allowed per block (1.1 vs. 1.6) compared to Arizona.
The Sharks took control of the game early. Logan Couture retrieved the puck Melker Karlsson had sent behind the goal line, skated out and fed seldom-used blue-liner Matt Tennyson for a wrist-shot goal before three minutes had been played. The Coyotes actually held the edge in shots over the rest of the period, but still gave up another goal before intermission.
Dainius Zubrus provided a partial screen on the first score that led to the puck deflecting off his Arizona defender Connor Murphy and got the puck deep on the next scoring play that officially started after he dropped it to the point. Karlsson got to it and fed Brent Burns skating toward the net on the right wing to open up a feed to Chris Tierney in front of the net to redirect home.
Tobias Rieder fed Martin Hanzal through the neutral zone on a breakaway that beat Martin Jones just 1:58 after intermission to make it a game again. The Coyotes not only seemed to find their legs, but the Sharks got some tough breaks with a couple disallowed goals and early whistles nullifying scoring chances.
Eventually, the Sharks were too much for their inferior and worn-down Pacific Division rivals. Just past the midpoint of the third period, Paul Martin moved the puck to blue-line partner Burns for a shot that Tomas Hertl deflected in to numb the pain of having (correctly) endured the most recent disallowed goal.
Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic got assists on Joonas Donskoi’s empty-net goal during a power play with 79 seconds to go in the game to cap off scoring. Arizona now sits four full games back of second-place San Jose in the Pacific Division with about a third of the 2015-16 NHL season to go.