Last night the Phoenix Coyotes took on the San Jose Sharks in the last exhibition game before the start of the regular season. While Phoenix started what looks like the team they are going with due to whom they scratched, San Jose sat out players like Marleau, Pavelski, and Thorton. It was the second home game for the Coyotes and unbeaten San Jose looked like a great test as these two teams will hook up for the regular season start next Saturday the 8th at the Shark Tank.
If you haven’t seen the new glass, it is awesome. Big sounds, nice movement, and player safety combined into one after a punishing check. And, the view is clear. The team changed the glass behind the penalty box and the player benches along with the glass around the rink, providing a distortion free view. Here is a picture I took during veteran training camp.
Prior to the game, a video tribute was played to those players who lost their life over the summer. Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, and the entire Lokomotiv team of the KHL. Brad McCrimmon and Igor Korolev were shown in their Coyote sweaters from their playing days here in the Valley. It was a very moving video when you see the names of all that were killed in the plane crash.
Onto the game!
The Coyotes looked and played better than they had on the road. Passing was tight, tape to tape passes were the rule and not the exception. A couple of early penalties by Whitney and Morris put the Sharks on the power play but Mike Smith was unfazed in goal. He looked relaxed but ready in goal. He doesn’t have that look like he his mind is on autopilot. He is a big target that is active, constantly moving but in purposeful ways. And he knows how to play the puck. Go behind the net, stop the puck, and then make a crisp pass to move the puck out of the zone. During Coyote powerplays, he would play any cleared puck and pass it through the neutral zone to the waiting Coyote on the blue line for a chip and chase. The first period ended with no score.
30 seconds into the second period, Hanzal put it past Thomas Greiss. The second goal of the period came at the 7:15 mark with a O’Sullivan blast from the point that Korpioski deflected. Pyatt added a beautiful wrap-around to make it 3-0. The Coyotes had a couple of power plays that saw great puck movement and good shots but Greiss was in position for the save. On a positive note, they kept the puck in the Sharks end for the majority of the play. What a difference from last year when they couldn’t even get it into the zone. Yandle was quarterbacking the power play with Whitney and Doan on the wings and Hanzal in front of the goal with the “A” on his sweater. Martin and Keith are the Associate Captains. It is fantastic to see Martin get the approval from his teammates for all he provides and the thankless job a shutdown center gets. When your assignment is the opposing team’s top center, it is easy to get overlooked. Scoring is king, and preventing it doesn’t make NHL on the Fly.
At 7:17 of the third period, Vlasic drove a hard shot that was head level to Schlemko. Schlemko tried to knock the puck down with his glove in a reflective motion (it was that or lose teeth) and tipped the puck past Smith. It didn’t look like Smith saw the trajectory of the blast until it was in the back of his net. Schlemko’s body language gave a look like he let down Smith. Smith, to his credit, didn’t show any expression as he batted the puck out of his net. A couple more penalties by the Coyotes put the Sharks on the power play. The Sharks didn’t get a good cycle going due to active sticks and pass interceptions by the boys in red. Smith was unflappable and moving well side to side, denying every attempt down low. During play in the Coyote zone, Derek Morris just destroys his man. Guy gets up, Morris knocks him down again and into a different Shark. That Shark then decides it is time to scrap. He grabs Hanzal. Marty ties him up, drops the gloves and squares him up. Marty is going for the Gordie Howe hat trick. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get a punch off before the reps skated in and broke them apart. Off to the sin bin with a roughing penalty to your box score.
So, with two minutes left, San Jose pulls their goalie for the extra attacker. SJ brings it up ice, cannot get through the neutral zone, and Vrbata ends up with the puck on his stick. He pushed it toward the SJ goal. The puck goes up on edge, flips over, and then slides straight into the net. At the last second, and I mean last second, one of the Shark players swept it toward the side board. It was within four inches of going in. You could tell they were smelling an empty net goal. The Sharks finally get the puck into the offensive zone, Smith makes a stick save and lifted the puck over everyone’s head toward the Shark net. It was wide, but what a cool play to see in the preseason. A goalie who knows how to play the puck trying for the empty netter. If he had tried this with the score tied at 1-1 during the regular season, I’m sure Jason would have the cap off and helmet on to relieve Smitty.
Third Star: Patrick O’Sullivan
Second Star: Martin Hanzal
First Star: Mike Smith