San Jose (29-10-7) at Arizona (26-15-5)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Glendale, AZ
Temp: 75° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Tue Jan 12, 2010
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Not much has separated the San Jose Sharks and the Phoenix Coyotes this season. A rough stretch for Phoenix, however, has helped San Jose begin to pull away atop the Pacific Division.

The Sharks will try to widen their division lead with their third straight win over the Coyotes on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

The Sharks (29-10-7) and Coyotes (26-15-5) have split four meetings this season with three games decided by shootouts and the other a 2-1 home win for Phoenix on Dec. 12.

San Jose has pulled out victories in the last two matchups, winning 3-2 in a shootout both times, including one at Phoenix on Dec. 31.

Those wins have helped the Sharks create an eight-point cushion over second-place Phoenix in the division chase, which has been much tighter than last season when San Jose won the Pacific by 26 points.

San Jose, which is one point behind NHL-leading Chicago, now gets a chance to expand its division lead by taking advantage of a Phoenix team that’s gone 2-2-3 after a 11-2-1 stretch.

To do so, however, the Sharks might need to start generating more offense. They’ve totaled seven goals over their last four games, going 2-2-0 in that stretch after taking a 2-1 win at Los Angeles on Monday.

“We were a little more detailed (against the Kings),” coach Todd McLellan said. “It still wasn’t easy. They came at us very hard in the third period, but I thought we were better along the boards. We won more battles.”

The sputtering offense has put more pressure on Evgeni Nabokov(notes), who had 33 saves - 18 in the third period - against the Kings. Despite that effort, he’s been inconsistent of late, splitting his last four starts with a 2.95 goals-against average. However, he’s only allowed one goal in each of the two victories.

Nabokov is 1-1-0 with a 4.60 GAA in four games at Phoenix, getting pulled twice.

The Coyotes will try to solve Nabokov again, and possibly having Scottie Upshall(notes) back could help.

Upshall has missed three games with an upper-body injury sustained in a 4-1 loss to Detroit on Jan. 2. The right wing leads the team with 14 goals - one shy of his career high set with the Coyotes and Philadelphia last season. He has three goals and four assists in eight games against the Sharks, including a goal in the last meeting.

“Scottie has skated three days in a row now very hard so if he gets the go-ahead (from the training staff) he’ll be ready to go for (Tuesday) night,” coach Dave Tippett told the club’s official Web site. “He plays all out all the time and he can give you that extra boost when your team is down.”

Phoenix appeared to be shaking out of its recent funk Saturday, rallying from a three-goal, third-period deficit to force overtime. But the Coyotes fell 5-4 in a shootout to the New York Islanders in the opener of this six-game homestand.

“Coming back from three goals makes you feel better, but we’ve allowed four goals the last (four) games in a row and we know as a group we can’t do that,” captain Shane Doan(notes) said.

The Coyotes could use some improved play from Ilya Bryzgalov(notes), who will likely be in net after getting pulled late in the second period Saturday for allowing four goals on 15 shots.

Bryzgalov is 1-2-2 with a 3.34 GAA in his last six starts, including two losses to San Jose. That rough stretch has come after he went 7-1-1 with a 1.76 GAA in his previous nine games.

Bryzgalov made 31 saves against the Sharks on Dec. 31, when his five-game home winning streak against them came to an end.

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Tuesday, Jan 12