Coyotes preparing for steady diet of Sharks

Jan 20, 2016, 7:00 PM
Arizona Coyotes' Shane Doan (19) tries to backhand the puck around the pad of New Jersey Devils goa...
Arizona Coyotes' Shane Doan (19) tries to backhand the puck around the pad of New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) as the Coyotes' Tobias Rieder (8), of Germany, and the Devil's Devils' Andy Greene battle in front of the net during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Devils defeated the Coyotes 2-0. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — We should have expected this. The race for the Pacific Division’s No. 2 and No. 3 seeds has been a game of leapfrog all season. The Coyotes’ recent four-game winning streak and healthy hold on second place just clouded our judgment.

We’re good now.

As the Coyotes prepared to face the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at Gila River Arena, six points separated second place from seventh in the Pacific, three teams were tied for the No. 2 spot and laying odds for which teams would secure those precious two spots behind the Los Angeles Kings was little more than a guessing game.

“With the parity in the league right now, and within divisions, it’s what you’re going to see,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “As much as you want to look around at what else is happening, you’d better take care of yourself otherwise that other stuff doesn’t matter.”

That fact makes the Coyotes’ dominance of its division to date all the more important in the remaining 12 weeks of the season. Of the Coyotes’ remaining 37 games, 16 will come against Pacific Division foes.

While the Coyotes currently lead their season series with Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton and Los Angeles and have split two games with Vancouver, they haven’t seen the Sharks yet. The two teams will face each five times over the season’s final 12 weeks.

It’s a little early to pay attention to the standings, but the Coyotes know that San Jose currently holds the No. 2 spot in the division while Arizona is sitting a precarious third following a three-game (0-2-1) home losing streak.

“You’re always kind of aware of it but as a group I couldn’t tell you where everybody is other than I know that we need to win because we’ve lost three in a row,” captain Shane Doan said. “We’re really trying to stay focused on ourselves, but we’re aware of the fact that San Jose is tied with us… We’re going to have to find a way to beat them because it’s going to be a big two points.”

The Sharks have gained steam over the past month. Part of that is due to their return to health. Talented forward Logan Couture missed 23 games with a fractured right fibula, then missed seven more after undergoing emergency surgery for an arterial bleed in his right thigh on Dec. 10 — just two days after his return from the first injury.

Since his return, the Sharks are 6-2-1.

While aging forwards Joe Thornton (36) and Patrick Marleau (36) are still producing, forward Joe Pavelski (team-high 32 points) and defenseman Brent Burns (41 points) are driving the offense. Burns leads all NHL defensemen with 18 goals.

“It’s a big game,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Just look at the standings and where everybody is. It will be a major focus game for them and for us.”

Sharks at Coyotes

Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale

When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: KTAR 92.3 FM

Probable goalies: Coyotes — Louis Domingue. San Jose — Martin Jones.

Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (abdominal surgery) and F Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out. San Jose — F Dainius Zubrus (upper body) made the trip and told the Bay Area News Group he’s ready to go.

Scouting the Sharks: San Jose supplanted the Coyotes for second place in the Pacific Division with a shootout loss to Ottawa on Monday. The Sharks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and own the Western Conference’s best road record at 15-6-2. … The Sharks announced last week that former Coyote Raffi Torres would join the San Jose Barracuda, their AHL affiliate, on a conditioning assignment as he returns from a 41-game suspension. He is not expected to join the team for this game after suffering a minor setback . … San Jose waived F ben Smith on Wednesday. … F Joe Pavelski leads the team with 22 goals and 43 points.

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