Sharks not sure what to expect against Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The first half of the Arizona Coyotes‘ season hasn’t much resembled the first half of the 2017-18 season.

But when it does, it’s obvious that it starts angering coach Rick Tocchet.

No wonder the San Jose Sharks aren’t certain which Coyotes team they’ll face when the Pacific Division teams meet for the first time this season Saturday at Gila River Arena. The Sharks are coming off a 3-2 road loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday.

Will the Sharks see the Coyotes who looked passive during a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, failing to hold two leads and giving up two goals in the third period?

Or will they see the Coyotes who won four straight before that as Adin Hill was almost perfect in net, allowing only two goals?

The team that utilized its speed, the NHL’s best penalty-killing unit, Hill’s near-faultless play and a standout top line to rebound from losses of 6-1 (Calgary) and 5-1 (Colorado) in successive games in late November?

“We kind of just backed up and I hate backing up,” Tocchet said after the game against the Capitals. “(You) play the same way you play at the start, or most of the game, you just don’t back up. It’s frustrating. We’ve got keep pounding away at the attitude.”

Forward Christian Fischer acknowledged that “it’s easy to get intimidated with the (Stanley Cup champion) Capitals’ roster” — apparently even at a time when the Coyotes were playing some of their best hockey of the season.

“It’s hard to win in this league,” Tocchet said. “That’s why the details have to be there. Get sticks on pucks, go through people, go to the net, shoot the puck. These are details you have to do, and good teams do that.”

It was the lack of those details that led to the Coyotes’ 9-27-5 record in the first half of the 2017-18 season — and led Tocchet to speak much more often with the tone that he did after the game against the Capitals.

The Coyotes are a much-better 13-12-2 this season as they go for their 14th victory, a win that didn’t arrive until Feb. 12 last season. Every so often, though, the Coyotes resemble — even if it’s only for part of a game — that 2017-18 team.

“These are games you’ve got to win, I think,” Tocchet said. “It’s not the good old college try.”

The Coyotes (13-12-2) called up forward Michael Bunting from Tucson (AHL) on Friday because forward Vinnie Hinostroza is week to week with a lower-body injury that apparently occurred early in the second period Thursday.

With starting goalie Antti Raanta (lower-body injury) on injured reserve, it seems likely that Hill will make his fifth consecutive start — although backup goalie Darcy Kuemper (lower-body injury) could be ready soon.

The Sharks led 1-0 in the first period Friday on Evander Kane’s eighth goal of the season and were tied 1-1 after two periods in Dallas, but Miro Heiskanen and Brett Ritchie scored less than two minutes apart early in the the third period to give the Stars a 3-1 lead. Logan Couture scored at 6:59 — or 33 seconds after Ritchie’s goal — but the Sharks couldn’t get the tying goal.

San Jose was trying for a third consecutive victory.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t get points out of this game. We had more than enough opportunities to get more out of this game than we did,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “You’ve got to keep playing, keep playing; when we’re down 3-1, we didn’t quit, we battled back.

“It was a competitive game. We had chances throughout the night and opportunities to tie it up at the end but didn’t get it.”