Sharks-Coyotes Preview

Even the return of top playmaker Joe Thornton couldn’t help the San Jose Sharks shake their offensive struggles.

Perhaps a matchup with an inconsistent Arizona Coyotes team that has had several terrible defensive performances lately will.

The Sharks try to avoid a third straight loss in their final road game this month Tuesday night.

Generating offense has been a problem for San Jose (22-16-5), which ranks 18th with 2.65 goals per game after it finished tied for sixth in 2013-14 with an average of 2.91.

The Sharks had no such problems during a 9-1-0 stretch Nov. 29-Dec. 20, scoring 3.5 per game. Since then, however, they’ve gone 3-5-1 and totaled 19 goals.

They played four of those games without Thornton – the team leader with 24 assists who was sidelined with a shoulder injury – before he returned in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers.

”We didn’t finish our chances,” center Joe Pavelski said. ”We played hard, but it came down to a couple of things, execution on certain things.”

Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem at all for Melker Karlsson, who joined Jeff Friesen as the only Sharks rookies to score in five straight games. Karlsson has six goals and 10 points in his first 14 contests.

Thornton’s return should provide a boost to a power play that entered Saturday 2 for 33 over the previous seven games before Karlsson converted on San Jose’s second and final opportunity Saturday.

Patrick Marleau has been the biggest culprit during the offensive woes, failing to score a goal in 15 games for the longest drought of his career since he went 16 without one in 2001-02.

This is San Jose’s final road contest in January before it opens a seven-game homestand Thursday against Toronto.

For the third time in the past two weeks, the Coyotes (16-21-4) were unable to build on a victory and fell 5-1 to Ottawa on Saturday. Arizona scored the game’s opening goal before allowing five straight and dropped to 2-2-0 on a six-game homestand.

Mike Smith surrendered five goals on 33 shots and suffered his 17th loss, trailing only New Jersey’s Cory Schneider for most in the league. Smith has a 4.48 goals-against average in his last six starts.

”Certainly everybody would like to see more saves,” coach Dave Tippett said, ”but I’d like to see more saves but I’d like to see more NHL plays made. There’s some stuff that is happening in front of him that is unacceptable. You shouldn’t pile on the goalie.”

Tippett watched his team lose 6-0 to Dallas on New Year’s Eve, rebound to beat Columbus 6-3 on Jan. 3, then lose 6-0 again to St. Louis last Tuesday before Thursday’s 4-1 victory over Winnipeg.

Arizona is 6 for 9 on the power play in those two wins and 0 for 9 in its last three losses.

San Jose recorded at least a point for the ninth time in 10 meetings against the Coyotes (6-1-3) with a 4-3 shootout loss at home Nov. 22.

Antti Niemi stopped 22 shots in that game and is 5-0-3 with a 1.55 GAA and two shutouts in his last eight against the Coyotes.