The Phoenix Coyotes ended San Jose’s lengthy reign as Pacific Division champions in 2011-12, but the Sharks have shown that they may be ready to reclaim that crown. Until their most recent game, the Coyotes didn’t have the look of a team that was poised to repeat.
San Jose will seek to remain unbeaten in its home opener and might have caught a break with Mike Smith unable to go for the Coyotes on Thursday night.
The Sharks (2-0-0) had won four consecutive division titles before finishing one point behind the surprising Coyotes last season. Phoenix also made its way to the conference finals while San Jose was defeated in the first round of the playoffs and failed once again to make a long-awaited run to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Sharks, though, have been ready for the start of this shortened season. After winning 4-1 in Calgary on Sunday, they jumped on Edmonton early in a 6-3 victory Tuesday.
San Jose scored a franchise-record six goals in the opening period with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture netting two apiece. Joe Thornton assisted on three scores.
“It’s only two games, but we’ve had a couple of nice wins and put some points in the bank which is important in a season like this,” said Marleau, who has four goals and an assist.
Marleau had a team-best five points last season against the Coyotes (two goals, three assists) and has 10 in his last seven home matchups (five goals, five assists). The Sharks, however, lost four of their final five overall meetings with Phoenix in 2011-12 and were shut out three times by Smith over that span.
Smith posted career highs of eight shutouts, 38 wins and a 2.21 goals-against average during his first season with the Coyotes but suffered an apparent injury in the first period of Wednesday’s game against Columbus.
Jason LaBarbera stopped 21 of 22 shots in place of Smith, who had allowed 10 goals over the first two games, and veteran winger Steve Sullivan recorded his eighth career hat trick in a 5-1 victory. Oliver Ekman-Larsson had two goals and an assist for his first career three-point game and his first points of this season.
The win allowed the Coyotes (1-2-0) to avoid their first 0-3 start since moving to the desert. As the Winnipeg Jets, the franchise dropped its first three games in 1985-86.
“I was a little bit nervous going in, but we were focused,” LaBarbera said. “We played an unreal game, and that’s how we have to play every night.”
The Sharks are off to their best start since winning their first four games in 2008-09 and have won in seven of the last eight visits from Phoenix. They’ve also beaten LaBarbera in five straight matchups, but the most recent of those was on Dec. 23, 2010.
Sullivan hasn’t scored a goal in any of his past five games against San Jose but he has five assists during a four-game point streak.
San Jose signed veteran center Scott Gomez to a one-year deal Wednesday, but it’s not clear if he’ll make his debut for the Sharks in Thursday’s game. Gomez has 686 career points, but had just two goals and nine assists in 38 games for Montreal last season.