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Arizona Coyotes wrap productive month with loss to Sharks

San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones (31) makes a save on a shot by Arizona Coyotes center Nick Schmaltz (8) as Sharks center Noah Gregor (73) and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) help out during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just two minutes and 12 seconds into the first period of Saturday’s game against the Sharks, the Arizona Coyotes led 2-0.

Thereafter, the Coyotes built up even more scoring chances against San Jose, including a breakaway that didn’t result in a goal.

“I think it’s our best hockey of the year, like the crowd was in it,” Rick Tocchet said.

It didn’t stay that way. San Jose (15-12-1) beat Arizona (15-9-4) by a 4-2 score.

“And then it just kind of unraveled. You could tell guys were getting tight — I’m not sure why,” Tocchet said. “San Jose’s a veteran [team], they’ve been in the tough games before. [It was] 2-0, they weren’t going to panic and they didn’t.”

At 11:01 in the first period, Logan Couture of the Sharks stepped up into the circle and fired a shot past Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta to cut the Arizona lead to 2-1. In the second, forward Dylan Gambrell went free around the net, turned and scored, tying the game. A lost faceoff later in the period resulted in a shot from up high that deflected in to make it 3-2, credited to Timo Meier.

Couture scored an empty-netter later to make it 4-2 Sharks, the final score.

The Coyotes had very strong starts in both the first and third periods. In the third, with Arizona trailing 3-2, the Coyotes got three power plays in the span of nine minutes. They didn’t convert on any.

“We had those three power plays in a row,” Tocchet said. “Too much one-on-one. Everybody wanted to wind it up and try to go through everybody instead of just staying as a team.”

The Coyotes were stymied by a Sharks penalty kill that entered the night ranked first in the NHL at 90.7%.

“It wasn’t good. We had three in a row there, I don’t think we even got the puck in and set up at all,” Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz said. “That’s really frustrating, especially when you’re on the power play, you want to take ownership and you want to make that play to help the team, and we’ve got to be better on that. Credit to them, they’ve got a good PK, but we’ve still got to be able to get in and get some looks on three power plays — can’t even get a shot.”

Arizona’s power play is ranked just 17th in the league at 19.0%, but in the previous six games had gone 5-for-14 (35.7%), which was the third-best in the NHL in that span.

The two quick Coyotes goals to start the game were from Schmaltz and Derek Stepan, in that order. They were similar to one another: San Jose left time and space for the Coyotes to pass the puck to an open man on the left side, scoring on a quick shot while Sharks goalie Martin Jones was out of position.

Jones made 21 saves and Raanta made 26 as the Coyotes were out-shot 30-23.

But after the Coyotes seemed to be cruising to a victory, things went the other direction.

“I think we just got away from our game a little bit,” Alex Goligoski said. “They kind of built a lot of speed and just kind of flipping pucks through the neutral zone and backed us off a little bit. Just sloppy by us.”

Arizona also had a 6-on-5 toward the end of the third period as Raanta was pulled for the extra skater. The Coyotes didn’t score on that advantage, either.

“Execution. There wasn’t enough of it through 60 minutes,” Stepan said. “When we did execute, we’d get a chance or gain some momentum, but the majority of the game, it just wasn’t enough execution.”

THAT’S A WRAP

Saturday’s game was the final one of November, which marked the second completed month on the NHL schedule.

Arizona finishes up November in second place in the Pacific Division, which is a playoff spot. The Coyotes played 16 games in 29 days, going 8-5-3. They also, before Saturday, had a nine-game point streak against Pacific Division teams.

November is probably the Coyotes’ toughest month from a schedule standpoint this season, and they navigated it reasonably well.

“I think we had some good games, we played some good hockey, we got points maybe when we didn’t play our best, so that’s always good,” Schmaltz said. “We’ve got to keep going. It’s a long season, tight division. A lot of teams are playing well, so it’s going to be tough.”

As of Saturday night, Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper had the highest save percentage (.935) among all NHL goaltenders who have played as many games as he has (18). Chicago’s Robin Lehner, who has played six fewer games, is the only goalie with any meaningful sample size of playing time with a higher save percentage (.938)

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