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Sharks look to avoid third straight loss

By Dan Pieringer

Stats Writer

Phoenix (31-36-7) at San Jose (45-15-11), 10:30 p.m. EST

SAN JOSE, California (AP) -- Though they still have one of the

best records in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks have shown signs of

vulnerability lately.

Getting back on track could be a challenge against a Phoenix

Coyotes team that's made a recent habit of exposing the

weaknesses of Western Conference contenders.

The Sharks look to avoid a third straight defeat and continue

their home dominance of the Coyotes when the Pacific Division

rivals meet Saturday night.

San Jose (48-15-11) has already clinched its second consecutive

Pacific Division title with 107 points, one shy of the franchise

record it set last season.

The Sharks, though, haven't looked like a dominant team in their

last two games. They lost 6-5 in a shootout at Chicago on

Wednesday night before falling 3-2 at Nashville on Thursday

night. They blew a two-goal lead by giving up three within a

2:38 stretch in the second period against the Predators.

San Jose converted two of its four power-play opportunities in

that game but didn't get an even strength goal. Though the

Sharks rank among the league leaders with 235 total goals,

they're in the bottom half with 145 at even strength.

"We didn't score a goal 5-on-5, and that's obviously been one of

the big problems the last few months," defenseman Dan Boyle

said. "We need to show more poise and patience with the puck."

The Sharks have eight games remaining before they hit the

playoffs as one of the favorites to win the West, alongside


"There's not much time left to fine tune this thing," Boyle

said. "We obviously need to play better hockey, and it hasn't

been good enough consistently."

It wasn't good enough last Tuesday in Phoenix, where the Sharks

lost 4-3 to the Coyotes, who had gone 0-4-1 in their previous

five games. Phoenix winger Shane Doan scored the game-winner

with 26.9 seconds remaining after recording an assist on each of

the team's first three goals.

Starting with that win over San Jose, Phoenix (31-36-7) has gone

3-1-1 in its last five. Its other two wins in that stretch came

over playoff hopefuls Vancouver and Edmonton.

"How this team is responding is real positive," coach Wayne

Gretzky said after a 3-2 win over the Oilers on Thursday night.

"I thought against Vancouver was a good effort, and again

tonight was an equally good effort. I'm really happy the way our

young guys are progressing."

Gretzky's club, last in the Pacific with 69 points, has split

its four meetings with San Jose this season. The Sharks, though,

have outscored the Coyotes 25-8 while going 6-0-1 in the teams'

last seven meetings at HP Pavilion, where they're 30-3-4 this


Phoenix's road struggles aren't limited to San Jose. It's 3-9-1

away from home since the All-Star break, including 0-4-1 in its

last five.

The Coyotes' recent hot streak, however, has them feeling good

about a strong finish regardless of where they're playing.

"I just want to make sure we get some wins here," defenseman Ken

Klee told the team's official Web site. "We are trying to build

some confidence and momentum going here where we feel good about

this team and the guys in the room, and the best way to do it is

to get wins."


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