This past Saturday I was treated to what San Jose Sharks fans have since referred to as a ‘stinker’ of a hockey game. The Phoenix Coyotes came into town, played their Dave Tippett system and shut down the Sharks, winning 1-0 in a shootout.
I’m not going to go too far in depth about the game like I did about the Sharks/Canucks game two weeks ago, but there are a bunch of points about the experience this time around I feel are noteworthy. In a game with exactly two goals scored (both in the shootout by one team), there aren’t many flashy highlights. The Coyotes played a surgical defensive game, limiting the Sharks to only a few good scoring chances while generating just a few of their own. For a fan of the Phoenix Coyotes’ defensive system, this game was incredibly entertaining; for a fan of the normally offensively dominant San Jose Sharks, it sucked. The Coyotes got into a little penalty trouble toward the end of the second period and in the third, but the penalty kill was absolutely outstanding. The Sharks could barely get into the zone without a defenseman clearing the puck back down the ice. The ‘Yotes also seemed to win just about every face-off, but the scoresheet shows the numbers to be much closer. Thanks, confirmation bias.
This was the sixth time I’d seen the Coyotes play in person, but my first time seeing Mike Smith. He is an absolute joy to watch play the puck. A puck-handling goaltender is a rarity in the current NHL; every time there was time and space with the puck in the zone, Smith would come out and saucer it up to the neutral zone. His goaltending was pretty good too, at one point stuffing Michal Handzus at point-blank range by stacking the pads, and ultimately earning the shutout.
Since the game went to a shootout with no goals scored by either team, both goaltenders actually earned a shutout. Again, in today’s NHL that’s quite a rarity. In the shootout, Smith shut down both Sharks players while Coyotes Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata backhand shelf’d both of their shots for the win. Including the Buffalo Sabres 1-0 win last March in San Jose, that makes two games out of four I’ve seen there where I never had to hear the HP Pavilion goal horn once. That also increases my record for teams I’m rooting for to 3-1-0 and the dropped the Sharks’ record to 1-2-1. I’m hoping the Coyotes are just as annoying to play when I see them again at the end of March.
I quipped in my last game recap that I couldn’t wait to see how many Coyotes fans there would be at the HP Pavilion this time around. Turns out there were approximately six of us. I arrived at the game about an hour early and in my stroll through the concourse, about a half-loop around the arena, I saw zero Coyotes jerseys. I did run into a couple who applauded me for wearing mine, but only one of them was wearing a ‘Yotes hat. Once inside the bowl I spent some time looking around for red in the sea of teal, white and black. I saw a couple specks out there, but some of them might have actually been 49ers jerseys. My point is, the Coyotes don’t have a very large contingent in Northern California (or, I would imagine, anywhere really). On my way out of the arena it was just me walking against a tide of teal. Some people looked at me as though they’d just seen Bigfoot. Even the event staff was acting a little bit too nice, though I’m sure they’re told to treat away fans extra courteously. Maybe they know the plight of Coyotes fans and they sympathize. Maybe not. Hopefully next time a few more show up so I have people to cheer with. If not, I guess I’ll just have to suck it up and enjoy being the ultimate outsider once again.