Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
SAP CENTER — When the Phoenix Coyotes came into town in October, the focus was on how the Sharks would fare against Coyotes goaltender — and notorious Sharks’ neutralizer — Mike Smith.
Last month, San Jose silenced critics with a 4-1 victory behind emerging rookie sensation Tomas Hertl.
Saturday night, Smith came better prepared.
Smith defended 48 of 50 shots over 60 minutes of hockey, enough to defeat the Sharks 3-2 in a shootout.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said of the opposing goaltender’s performance:
“He looked comfortable in there, and when a guy like that gets comfortable, and when a guy like that gets comfortable he makes a lot of saves.”
The Coyotes got on the board 36 seconds into the opening period. San Jose was unable to get the puck out of their zone right out of the face off, and Antoine Vermette got possession and fired the puck past Niemi to give the visitors the 1-0 advantage.
San Jose had plenty of great shifts through the first stanza and outshot the Coyotes 16-7. But Smith was on his A-game and the Sharks were unable to score.
Pavelski got the Sharks on the board 1:16 into the second period, skating up to the crease and tripping over himself as he snapped the puck past Smith. Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels earned assists on Pavelski’s sixth goal of the season, which tied the game up 1-1.
The Sharks went ahead on the power play with Kyle Chipchura in the box for a slashing call on Jason Demers. Pavelski fed the puck to Dan Boyle who lined it into the top right corner of the net to give San Jose the 2-1 advantage. Joe Thornton also tallied an assist.
The crowd erupted as Boyle notched the goal in his first game back on the ice since being carried off on a stretcher in St. Louis. Even with the goal, the veteran D-man still doesn’t feel quite back to his normal self:
“I expect a lot out of myself. … I had to be realistic too. I knew I was going to be not as good as I wanted to be… I felt half a second behind. At times I wasn’t skating as well as I’d like, and some of my decision making was about half a second slow.”
Phoenix tied the game back up quickly when Mikkel Boedker’s wrist shot eluded Niemi, making the score 2-2 with less than 12 minutes left in the second period.
San Jose continued to create scoring chances, but Smith maintained dominance between the pipes and kept the home team from taking the lead. The tie stood heading into the second intermission.
McLellan said of the chances the Sharks created against Smith:
“We had every opportunity to finish it, to end it. We had some good looks. I’m not sure how hungry we were around the blue paint, or how much we were in the goaltender’s eyes.”
The deadlock carried through the entire last period. Logan Couture came inches from scoring the go-ahead goal with 33 seconds left on the clock when Smith lost control of the puck and it nearly trickled into the net.
The tie held and the Sharks and Coyotes headed into four-on-four overtime for the second time this young season.
Both Niemi and Smith came up with huge saves in the fourth stanza, forcing the game into a shootout, which Phoenix dominated 2-1.
The San Jose Sharks continue their home stand Tuesday, November 5 against the Buffalo Sabres. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Saturday’s game marked the third time this season that the Sharks have had 50+ shots in a game, tying a franchise record for most 50+ shot games in a single season (2010-2011). … Joe Thornton’s assist on Dan Boyle’s power play goal marks his 800th career assist. He currently ranks 30th overall on the NHL all-time assist list. … Joe Pavelski now has a three-game goal scoring streak, and Tommy Wingels has a three-game assist streak.