There is a common phrase in sales that permeates to other areas in life—closing is everything. The San Jose Sharks cannot expect (Rob) Blake to come through the door telling them "third place is you're fired!" because he works for their Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings, but hopefully learned the Glengarry, Glen Ross lesson of "always be closing" from their home shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday, November 2.
"We had every opportunity to finish it, to end it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "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. He looked comfortable in there, and when a guy like that gets comfortable he makes a lot of saves."
Phoenix goalie Mike Smith made 48 of them, to be exact. After ending regulation with 25 consecutive saves, he did not face a single shot in overtime. It did not look like the momentum would carry over when he was beaten by Logan Couture in the first round of the shootout, but he only had to make a save on Patrick Marleau's final shot because Joe Pavelski hit the post and Tomas Hertl missed the net. By then, Antti Niemi had given up two goals on five shots in the skills competition.
It would not have come to that had San Jose not given away both goals. It took just 36 seconds for them to cough up the first.
Dan Boyle had an ill-advised and poorly-executed flip of the puck (somehow not registered as a turnover in the stats) then failed to take Antoine Vermette when he entered the zone. That left the scorer in the high slot alone after Rob Klinkhammer got him the puck—the one area of vulnerability for Niemi more-so than most top goalies that his defenders have to take that away.
Boyle can be forgiven for being rusty after being knocked unconscious and having 17 days off because of it. The Sharks also controlled most of the rest of the period and broke through when Tommy Wingels got the puck to Matt Nieto, who head-manned it to Pavelski and skated to the far side on a two-on-one. With the defender taking away the pass, the Wisconsin forward ripped a shot to the corner on Smith's glove-side.
Boyle took note of that and got a little redemption. San Jose kept the pressure on until a penalty was drawn. By the time the veteran defenseman got the puck in the circle to Smith's blocker-side and ripped it to the same corner as Pavelski, Phoenix was being out-shot 7-0 and had faced 13 attempts with only one of their own.
That lead did not even last four minutes. Mikkel Boedker carried the puck deep into the zone and let fly a sharp-angle shot that Niemi has to save every time. He was not ready for it, and it slipped past him to the far post before he could get the paddle down.
Two mistakes and the Sharks turn a regulation win over a Pacific Division rival into a shootout loss—the second consecutive rival to whom they have fallen. That is a three-point swing because they could not close. Even though they could only draw even in the circle and had two more turnovers for the game (17-10 in takeaways but 14-5 in giveaways), they held an edge of 50-23 in shots on goal and 86-51 in attempts.
The Coyotes naturally had an edge in hits (17-8), but their 26-20 lead in blocks was misleading. It is both a lower ratio to shots allowed (one per 1.9 vs. 1.5) but a lower percentage of attempts (29.9 vs. 34.5 percent). They also earned two stars in this game for being able to finish their opportunities.
- Smith was obviously the best player Saturday, stopping 48 of 50 for a .960 save percentage.
- Pavelski had a goal and an assist on four shots and nine attempts. He made up for losing one more faceoff than he won with two takeaways and no giveaways, plus added a blocked shot. Couture deserves credit for getting 10 of 12 shots on net, but was on the ice for a goal-against, had just one block and three faceoff wins in eight attempts.
- Boedker had a goal and an assist on three shots in five attempts, plus a blocked shot and hit.