Arizona Coyotes center Nick Schmaltz (8) shoots the puck past San Jose Sharks defenseman Mario Ferraro (38) during the second period at Mullet Arena in Tempe on Tue Jan 10, 2023 (AP News photo)
By Daniel Dullum
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
TEMPE, Ariz. – For the most part, the San Jose Sharks (13-21-8) enjoyed their first visit to the intimate ambiance of Mullett Arena. Picking up two badly needed points in the NHL Pacific standings didn’t hurt either.
Matt Nieto’s tie-breaking goal less than 10 seconds into the third period put the Sharks ahead to stay in a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes (13-22-5) Tuesday at the new 4,800-seat home for Arizona State hockey and the temporary residence of the Coyotes.
“It was fun,” Nieto said of the Mullett Arena experience. “It felt just like juniors and it’s even better that we got the two points.”
Sharks center Logan Couture said, “Different is a good word for it. It’s a unique experience. I enjoyed it. It brings me back to my days when I was playing in the OHL in a bunch of arenas about this size – Windsor, Kingston, London. It had that familiar feel. The ice was great.”
Sharks right wing Kevin Labanc said, “It felt like I was playing in juniors again. It was a fun barn and I look forward to playing in it the next time.”
Nieto broke a 2-2 tie nine seconds into the third period with his eighth goal of the season, beating Coyotes’ netminder Karel Vejmelka from just outside the crease, knocking in a rebound off the initial shot by Couture.
“It was just a great forecheck,” Nieto said. “Barbie (Alexander Barabanov) worked hard to go get it, gave it to Cooch (Logan Couture) who gave it to me. It wound up in the net and it was such a momentum builder for us.”
Defenseman Jaycob Megna, who also assisted on the Nieto goal, added an insurance tally for San Jose (13-21-8, 34 points) with his first goal of the season at 14:10 of the third period. Megna scored on a one-timer from just inside the blue line, beating Vejmelka, who was screened on the play.
“I liked how we started the third period, getting the goal early,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “I thought we did a pretty good job after that, not giving them much. The PK had some big kills that we needed, and Kaapo (Kahkonen) was good in the net. So it’s a good way to start the second half.”
Nico Sturm scored the equalizer for San Jose at 5:59 of the second period when he converted a rebound off the initial shot by Nick Bonino, placing it in the top shelf over the shoulder of Coyotes’ netminder Karel Vejmelka.
San Jose opened the scoring at 4:39 of the first period when Kevin Labanc picked up a loose puck in traffic and shot it past Vejmelka on the glove side. Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier had the assists as the Sharks took a 1-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, Barrett Hayton scored the equalizer for Arizona (13-22-5, 31 points). Hayton, on assists from Shane Gostisbehere and Jakob Chychrun, cruised across the slot area and flipped a backhand shot past Kaapo Kahkonen glove side.
The Coyotes took a 2-1 lead at 16:21 of the opening period when Christian Fischer fired a wrist shot from the edge of the left circle, beating Kahkonen on the glove side into a wide open net.
“I was a little disappointed when we came out strong in the first period. Then I thought we got a little sloppy,” Quinn said. “But I thought we responded well after being down 2-1 with a pretty good second period.”
Arizona’s Josh Brown and the Sharks’ Michael Eyssimont dropped the gloves at 19:21 of the first period. Each player received a 5-minute major for fighting.
Kahkonen stopped 27 of Arizona’s 29 shots on goal. Vejmelka faced 33 San Jose shots, making 29 saves.
The Coyotes were 0-for-4 on the power play, while San Jose was 0-for-2.
“The PK was pretty good,” Nieto said. “We were blocking shots, doing the little things, clearing the puck out, doing the hard work that you need to do. It’s no surprise that (our penalty kill) is in the top five in the NHL.”
The Sharks’ road trip continues when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. San Jose returns to SAP Center to host Edmonton on Friday.