SAN JOSE, Calif. – Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s decision to start the season with familiar lines from a year ago is paying early dividends for San Jose.
Patrick Marleau scored the tiebreaking goal with 1:53 remaining for his third straight two-goal game, helping the Sharks rally from a two-goal deficit to beat the Phoenix Coyotes 5-3 in their home opener Thursday night.
Joe Thornton added three assists—getting one on each of Marleau’s scores—and an empty-net goal as San Jose’s two biggest stars appear in midseason form already. Marleau has six goals and two assists and Thornton has one goal and eight assists as the Sharks have opened the season with three straight wins for the first time since 2008-09.
“They’re clicking,” McLellan said. “They had big nights tonight. Teams are going to count on their big guys to get the job done. Ours are producing right now.”
Logan Couture and Marty Havlat also scored for San Jose. Antti Niemi made 32 saves.
Steve Sullivan, Antoine Vermette and Lauri Korpikoski scored for the Coyotes, unable to hold onto a 3-1 lead in the third period on the back end of a back-to-back.
“It’s a shame because we played so well for most of the game,” coach Dave Tippett said. “In the third period we make a couple of errors and it cost us. It’s hard to stomach. We have no time for learning. We need people to get in there and get the job done. We need to finish and we’ll have to find people who can do that. That’s a point wasted for sure.”
Marleau started San Jose’s comeback with a goal midway through the third and then beat Jason LaBarbera for the game-winner. Thornton started the play with a sharp up-ice pass to Joe Pavelski, who fed Marleau for the wrist shot.
“Joe made a great play coming back,” Marleau said. “He picked up a loose puck, and I kind of just took off, and he found Pav, and Pav was able to slide it over to me. I just tried to get it away as quick as possible.”
The Coyotes seemed to take control with two goals in a span of 2:27 of the third to take a 3-1 lead. The outburst started when Sullivan came out of the penalty box to start a 15-second power play that Phoenix capitalized on. Sullivan’s shot was blocked but Vermette knocked the rebound past Niemi, who was off-balance after Shane Doan was knocked into him by a Sharks defender.
While Niemi had little chance to stop that shot, he did a poor job on Phoenix’s next goal when Korpikoski beat him to the short side from a bad angle to give the Coyotes a two-goal edge.
“Once we get down, there’s still belief in this team where we can come back from deficits like that because we know the skill and talent we have and the offensive capabilities of the players on this team that we can score goals in bunches,” Couture said.
That proved to be true as Marleau took a pass from Thornton in the slot and beat LaBarbera to make it 3-2. Havlat then got the equalizer when he knocked in a rebound with 6:54 remaining, and Marleau provided the game-winner.
“We had the game under control and we just gave it away,” Doan said.
After beating Calgary and Edmonton in their home openers to begin the season, the Sharks got their long-awaited chance to play before their own fans for the first time in more than nine months because of the four-month NHL lockout.
San Jose got a break when Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was scratched with a lower-body injury. Smith, who became the first goalie to shut out the Sharks three times in one season a year ago, left Wednesday’s win over Columbus in the first period with the injury.
LaBarbera was up to the task early as the Sharks used the energy from the crowd to get off to a fast start. San Jose took 12 of the game’s first 13 shots, including seven during a 2:39 stretch on the power play that included 1:22 of 5-on-3 time.
San Jose took advantage of its next power-play chance when Derek Morris was sent off in the final minute of the period for cross-checking Justin Braun. Thornton won a faceoff from Boyd Gordon and got the puck to Pavelski at the point. Pavelski’s shot was tipped by Couture into the net for the Sharks’ sixth power-play goal of the season.
The Coyotes equalized in the second period when Sullivan scored 1:48 into the two-man advantage for his fourth goal in two nights.
NOTES: The Sharks played a video tribute to the team’s original owner, George Gund III, who died this month from cancer. … Matthew Irwin got his first career point with an assist on Marleau’s first goal. … F Scott Gomez, signed Wednesday by San Jose, did not dress. … Coyotes C Matthew Lombardi left in the second period with an upper-body injury.