The San Jose Sharks began the unofficial second half of the 2013-14 NHL season a little later than the puck dropped on Friday, Dec. 27. The Pacific Division rival Phoenix Coyotes earned a point because they were the team ready right out of the Christmas break.
Perhaps some of that had to do with being up before the sun. Players can blame themselves for negotiating a Christmas Eve through Boxing Day off in the collective bargaining agreement, forbidding travel before the day of these contests.
When it was over, the Sharks mustered their third straight victory in a game in which they were probably out-played. That is something that will have to change if they are going to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Then again, teams that find ways to win games they are being out-played in do win titles. Their success was thanks in large part to having most of the game's pictured stars and a team effort to win the possession battle: 31-24 on faceoffs, and while the Coyotes managed three more takeaways (10-7) they also had two more giveaways (6-4).
Naturally, San Jose had more shot attempts (72-64) but got fewer on net (32-37) despite blocking more (19-16) because of missed shots—ice cold Logan Couture alone had four. Predictably, Phoenix had substantially more hits (32-22), but also took one more penalty.
The game was about even for 51 minutes. Unfortunately the Sharks were nine minutes late, and by the time they arrived they had spotted the Coyotes four shots, eight attempts and a goal.
That score came 7:43 into the game when a poor pass by Matt Nieto evaded a casual-looking sweep of the stick by Tyler Kennedy right in the slot. David Moss scooped the puck up and shot it off Brad Stuart past Antti Niemi.
Meanwhile San Jose seemed unable to connect on chances for the first half of the game. That changed when Brent Burns got the puck to Joe Thornton attacking the middle of the zone. The pass swung to the lower left circle seemed a poorer choice than shooting, but Joe Pavelski made it the right decision by roofing a one-timer goal to the far corner from a tough angle.
However, Phoenix blocked Nieto's shot about a minute later, and it led to an attack the other way. Mike Ribeiro got the puck to David Schlemko, whose shot was tipped home by Moss, bringing his total for the game to one less than the 2013-14 NHL season-to-date.
Fourteen seconds into the next shift, the whistle was blown for a penalty on Derek Morris drawn by Mike Brown. With seconds left in the power play, Tommy Wingels retrieved the puck Jason Demers got into the attack zone and found Patrick Marleau attacking the slot between two defenders for the one-timer goal to draw even again.
From there the teams could not cash in any of their chances until the middle of the third. While Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a shot blocked, Pavelski came on for Marleau and brought the puck low from Thornton, where he sent a beautiful one-timer pass to Burns attacking the weak-side of the crease that went to the corner without giving Mike Smith a chance to glove it.
A questionable but predictable call led to the Coyotes tying the game exactly two minutes later: Wingels was the fourth player called for interference on the night and the second on the Sharks. Fifteen seconds from the end of the power play, Keith Yandle got the puck to Ribeiro, who found Radim Vrbata for the tying goal through traffic.
Both teams had chances in the final six-plus minutes of regulation but could not score. Both also had dynamite overtime chances, with San Jose's best being when Brent Burns stole the puck and came in alone but could not beat Smith's glove or get to the loose puck post-save.
Mikkel Boedker beat Niemi on the first attempt of the shootout, but Couture put a great deke on Smith and beat him with a backhand. After Vrbata's shot was turned aside, Marleau trickled a shot through the five-hole to give the Sharks the lead. Once Oliver Ekman-Larsson was denied, they had their third-straight shootout win.
As shaky as these wins have been, San Jose has moved into a virtual tie with the Los Angeles Kings for second place in the Pacific Division. Still, four Western Conference teams have better records by either point percentage or tiebreak.
Phoenix is still in fifth in the Pacific Division, but would currently receive the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Neither team would get home-ice advantage in even the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.