San Jose Sharks (29-10-7) at Phoenix Coyotes (26-15-5), 6 PM PST
Though not entirely intentional (thanks, work), I managed to skip yesterday's Gameday against the LA Rudys. Twelve hours later, Evgeni Nabokov is proving the haters wrong and the Sharks skate off with a regulation win. Now, I'm not saying that this type of mojo-altering posting works for all teams...but it might just be critical for this season's Pacific battle. Perhaps I'll shift my Kings Gamedays to Post-Games for the final head-to-head confrontation next week.
Tonight, though, it's all about the desert. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago the Sharks played back-to-backs ending in Phoenix? Yes it was, though the difference is that it's a shorter flight from LA to Phoenix than it is from San Jose to Phoenix...though not a ton shorter.
What to expect from the Sharks tonight? I'm a bit disturbed by the scoring trend that we've been seeing where secondary scoring only puts the puck in the net one out of every five games or so. You look up and down the box scores from the past month or so and wins constantly seem to be peppered in with the names Heatley and Marleau, with a lot of Thornton following in parentheses. Against the Kings, the second line of Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryane Clowe created a number of opportunities, forechecked hard, and drew penalties, but they ultimately couldn't finish the job.
We all know Ryane Clowe is ridiculously streaky, but the dude got his big contract to play crash the crease and pop in garbage goals a la Ryan Smyth. Clowe, however, has only three goals in his last 14 games. THREE GOALS. I know Clowe's got his share of supporters, but I considered his gi-normous contract extension to be a bit much and I stand by it; I think it'll be a salary cap headache down the line, and at 28 years old, it's not like Clowe's going to suddenly discover consistency or another dimension to his game. He's not a bad fighter, though.
I won't rag too much on Joe Pavelski (except for his acting ability) as he's contributing on the penalty kill and he continues to do little defensive things well. Still, since being named to Team USA, he's gone five games without a point, and that's really unacceptable for someone getting top-six minutes. Everyone goes through slumps, but you'd think Pavelski would have at least got an assist when the puck bounced off his foot or something.
As for Devin Setoguchi, well...at least Jonathan Cheechoo had two good seasons to sandwich his awesome one before injuries ripped away what little skating ability he had. Seto got a pass on his first ten games or so after injury, as he needed to get his legs and timing back. After that, it's all up to him. He has two assets: his speed and his shot -- and he's not really using either right now. When I look at Seto's name on the box score, I expect to see at least three shots on goal like how he started the season. If you look at his game log from December on, the number of low numbers -- and even zeros -- adds up to a sum of Not Good.
However, since Seto is a RFA after this season, he's certainly making it easier for Doug Wilson. If Seto makes less money, that's more money that could be allocated to keeping Marleau.
What's Todd McLellan to do? I keep saying over and over that you must break up the big line, even for a period at a time. Even with Ed Jovanovski out, the Coyotes have a strong blue line, and their defensive style can key in on a single offensive unit. Depth is critical, but so is jump-starting the other guys, so I'd lobby for keeping Thornton/Heatley/Clowe and Marleau/Pavelski/Setoguchi together for a few games.
On a brighter note, at least Torrey Mitchell seems to have his legs back, as he's really shown flashes of his speed in the past few weeks. And Manny, when will my Manny get back in the lineup? That dude rocks, and not just cause he wears 27 (obviously in tribute to the greatest 27 in Sharks history, and I'm not talking about Bryan Marchment).
The Coyote I'd Like On My Team: Did you know Shane Doan once had an International Fan Club? It's lost somewhere in the history of the Internets, but the club came with these awesome t-shirts that just had Doan's face on it. I'd want Doan on my team, not for his shot or hard-nosed playing, but so I could revive those t-shirts.
Prediction: Sharks 3, Coyotes 2. Goals by Boyle, Marleau, and Heatley, the last two hopefully on separate lines.