Posted March 09, 2012 on AP on Fox
The San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes have each been atop the Pacific Division in the past two weeks. Neither, however, has been able to maintain that position. In a matchup between teams desperate for two points, the scuffling Sharks and Coyotes take the ice Saturday night in Arizona. By opening 2012 with a 10-3-2 run, San Jose (33-24-9) took over first in the division, and it looked like Todd McLellan's team was primed to capture its fifth straight Pacific title. A 5-3 loss at Phoenix on Feb. 4, however, took the steam out of the Sharks' surge and gave life to the Coyotes. Starting with the win over San Jose - highlighted by two goals from Lauri Korpikoski - Phoenix went 11-0-1 in February. As the Sharks proceeded to free fall, the Coyotes (33-25-10) moved into a first-place tie with San Jose on Feb. 21 after trailing by 12 points three weeks earlier. Phoenix has gone 0-4-1 this month, however, and now trails Pacific-leading Dallas by three points. San Jose is also winless in March (0-2-2) and is 4-10-3 since losing to the Coyotes last month to drop four points back of the Stars. The Sharks were on the verge of earning two points in Dallas on Thursday after Joe Pavelski put them in front 3-2 with his 24th goal at 16:28 of the third period. Tomas Vincour tied the score with 15 seconds left in regulation, however, and had the lone goal in the shootout to hand San Jose a 4-3 loss. "We just can't give up that last goal," said Pavelski, who has scored twice in his last 12 games. "There definitely was some good out there, but it's tough to accept when you don't get two points. We've got to find a way to win." The Coyotes are feeling the same way, looking to avoid their first six-game skid since Jan. 27-Feb. 7, 2009. Phoenix showed some fight Thursday against Minnesota, rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period as Raffi Torres and Korpikoski scored, but it fell in a shootout 3-2. The Coyotes allowed two first-period goals and have been outscored 10-1 in the opening 20 minutes over their last five games. "We're not the kind of team geared to come from behind," backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera said. "We play better with a lead, and that's our identity. When you're chasing the game, it makes everything much more difficult on everybody." The Coyotes could have better luck against a Sharks team that has scored two first-period goals in its last four games. Both teams might be in better shape if they could get their power plays going. The Coyotes are 2 for 21 with the man advantage during their losing streak, while the Sharks have failed to score on all 10 power-play chances during their skid. San Jose's offense as a whole has been sluggish lately, scoring three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and no more than two in eight of them. Logan Couture, tied with Patrick Marleau for the team lead with 27 goals, has gone a season-worst six games without a score. That lack of firepower has made things tough on Antti Niemi, who has a 2.18 goals-against average in starting all four games of the Sharks' losing streak. In his lone start of the season against the Coyotes last month, Niemi allowed four goals on 23 shots. Phoenix's Mike Smith has been between the pipes for the season's first three meetings, going 2-1-0 with a 3.03 GAA. He is 0-3-0 with a 3.63 GAA in his last four starts.
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