Coyotes-Sharks Preview


After losing twice at home in regulation all of last season, the San Jose Sharks are out to prove they're still one of the league's toughest to beat on their own ice.

They might be tested with Radim Vrbata looking to extend his run of hat tricks for the visiting Phoenix Coyotes.

The Sharks will try for their eighth straight home win Saturday night against a Phoenix team that will have to win in a hostile environment to secure its first 2-0-0 start in four years.

San Jose continued its dominance at the Shark Tank with a 4-1 victory in Thursday's season opener. The Sharks finished with the fewest home losses in the NHL by going 17-2-5 last season and have won seven straight there, including a 5-0 run in the 2013 playoffs.

Antti Niemi, who had 21 saves in the opener, is 22-2-4 with a 1.75 goals-against average at home since the beginning of last season, including the playoffs. He went 3-0-1 with a 1.20 GAA and two shutouts overall against Phoenix in 2013.

Center Logan Couture, who has a team-high 34 points at the SAP Center over the past two seasons, has five goals and six assists during the home winning streak.

Teammate Patrick Marleau provided some insurance with a third-period score Thursday, giving him three goals and four assists throughout this run at home. The left wing also has seven goals and seven assists in his last 10 meetings there against the Coyotes.

Although Phoenix is 6-13-4 in San Jose since the beginning of the 2006-07 season, it was one of the few teams to come out of the Shark Tank with points last season. The Coyotes earned a 1-0 shootout win Feb. 9 and lost 3-2 in a shootout March 30.

Now they're trying to begin a season with consecutive wins for the first time since 2009 after beating the New York Rangers 4-1 on Thursday in their first opener with an owner since that same season.

"That's what everyone's been waiting for the past four years," said Vrbata, who led the way with three goals. "The fans liked it, we liked it on the bench and took advantage of it early on. That's a good thing."

Vrbata seeks his third straight hat trick after becoming the first player to have one in a season finale and in the opener of the next season since Los Angeles' Luc Robitaille in 1988.

The right wing has seven goals and five assists in his last 14 meetings with San Jose.

Mike Smith, who stopped 23 shots Thursday, hopes to continue his strong play versus the Sharks. He's 6-0-1 with a 0.98 GAA and four shutouts in his last seven starts against them.

San Jose might have better luck against Smith by getting its power play on track after failing to score with an advantage (0 for 8) for the first time in nine home games, including the 2013 postseason.

The Sharks finished fourth in the NHL with a 25.6 power-play percentage at home last season.

"We're a veteran group, so we got over it," Couture said. "Obviously, our power play needs to get a lot better moving forward, but I thought we played a pretty good game for the first game of the year."

The Coyotes, beginning a five-game road stretch, are expected to be without defenseman Rostislav Klesla (concussion) and won't have forward Paul Bissonnette in the lineup due to a suspension.

Defenseman Brad Stuart (lower body) and forward Adam Burish (lower body) aren't likely to play for the Sharks.

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