With the All-Star festivities behind us, the Coyotes are now heading into the second half of the season looking for their second consecutive playoff appearance. The stretch run for the playoffs begins tonight in San Jose against the Sharks.
Phoenix will be seeking revenge against San Jose after the Sharks were able to snap the Coyotes four-game win streak on Jan. 17. Since that time, the Sharks have played much better hockey than they were leading up to the game in Phoenix last January. They won two of three before the break with their lone loss coming to the Kings in Los Angeles in a shootout. The Sharks did struggle a bit with getting the puck in the net though. They only scored eight goals over that stretch.
Antti Niemi appears to be the starter in net for the Sharks for the remainder of the season. During the month of January, backup Antero Niitymaki started only twice. That is a far cry from when he had 15 starts in the first two months of the season. In his last meeting against the Coyotes, Niemi stopped 34 of 36 shots for the Sharks victory.
The All-Star weekend couldn’t have came at a better time for Phoenix with all the injuries that were piling up before the break. Ed Jovanovski was able to play in the last game against Colorado on Jan. 27. His injury kept him out for a couple of games. Michal Rozsival was day-to-day with an upper body injury before the break. He has had nearly two weeks off since his last game, so he could very well be a go tonight. Vernon Fiddler is also closer to returning to action.
A victory tonight in San Jose would be a great start to this playoff push. During the month of February, every team that the Coyotes will face are either a top eight seed in their conference or are right there fighting for a playoff spot. It is a brutal stretch, but in order to be one of the best teams in this league, you have to beat the best.