After practice last week at the ALLTEL Ice Den, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Zac Bierk was asked by a group of reporters if he was getting anxious to see some game action._ Bierk’s response was simple and honest.
“Obviously everyone loves to play in games,” said Bierk._ “At the same time, Sean (Burke) and Brian (Boucher) have done a tremendous job and I just need to work hard and be prepared.”
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound netminder was ready Saturday night when he made his 2003-04 season debut._ Bierk made 41 saves in leading the Coyotes to a 4-4 tie against the San Jose Sharks in front of 14,551 at the HP Pavilion._ The tie snapped Phoenix’s three game losing streak and improved their record to 3-3-1-0, including 2-1-1-0 on the road._ The Sharks remained winless at home in five games and have an overall mark of 1-4-3-0.
“I am not sure that Zac (Bierk) has played a poor game since he has been a member of this team going back to last year,” said Coyotes head coach
Bob Francis._ “He has worked extremely hard in practice and he prepares himself well, and that showed tonight._ He made several key saves for us and was really solid.”
In total, Bierk stopped 41 of the 45 shots he faced, but probably the biggest save of the contest came late in overtime._ With just over a minute remaining in the extra session, Sharks center Alyn McCauley was left all alone at the top of the crease and Bierk made a glove stop that saved the game for Phoenix.
“I saw the play come across to McCauley and I just tried to react as quickly as possible,” said Bierk, who was voted the game’s second star._ “The guys battled hard tonight and it felt good to earn a point on the road._ San Jose is a tough divisional opponent and both teams battled well night.”
The evening started with the Coyotes returning to their recipe for success and scored the game’s first goal on the power play._ Phoenix defenseman David Tanabe fired a slap shot that beat Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to the stick side giving the Coyotes a 1-0 lead at 8:01 of the first period.
“Mike (Johnson) made a nice pass and I just let a quick shot go that found the back of the net,” said Tanabe, who has two goals on the season._ “We moved the puck well on the power play and it was important to get off to a fast start, similar to how we started the season.”
Midway through the opening period, the Coyotes successfully defended a five-on-three disadvantage, but shortly after the penalty kill, the Sharks tied the score._ Marco Sturm slid a wrist shot past Bierk with 5:11 remaining in the opening period evening the score at 1-1._ Just 38 seconds later, Jonathan Cheechoo scored his second goal of the season giving San Jose a 2-1 lead.
“We have been allowing goals in short periods of time lately and we have to correct that part of our game,” said Tanabe._ “We have to make sure we eliminate defensive breakdowns and not allow teams to strike quickly.”
In the second period, Coyotes captain Shane Doan did what all good leaders do and regained the momentum for his team._ Doan tied the score at 2-2 when he tallied his third marker of the season at 1:55 of the middle period.
“We came out in the first period and played well, but we allowed San Jose to gain some confidence with the two quick goals,” said Doan, who also picked up one assist in the tie._ “We stressed the importance of getting the equalizer and we were able to convert and get ourselves settled.”
San Jose quickly had Phoenix feeling uneasy again when Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren fired a slap shot that beat a screened Bierk with 3:02 remaining in the second period giving San Jose a 3-2 advantage.
It was a lead that Phoenix wanted back and they answered right back midway through the third period._ Phoenix defenseman Paul Mara tied the score at 3-3 when he followed up a Ladislav Nagy shot and poked the rebound past Nabokov at 9:53 of the final session._ Just under two minutes later, center Mike Sillinger gave the Coyotes a 4-3 lead with his first goal of the season at 11:45 of the third period._ It was Sillinger’s first marker as a member of the Coyotes._
“It felt good to get the first one out of the way,” said Sillinger, who was playing in his second game since returning from hernia surgery._ “More importantly, it helped the team at that particular moment of the game.”
The Sharks wouldn’t go away quietly and Shawn Thornton’s goal with 4:37 remaining in regulation time sent the game into overtime.
The Coyotes will continue their road trip in Vancouver for a match up against the Canucks on Sunday night._ Phoenix will return home on Tuesday, October 28 when they host the Chicago Blackhawks at AWA.
NEWS AND NOTES
HEALTHY SCRATCH – Phoenix center Krystofer Kolanos was not in the lineup on Saturday night against San Jose and will look to return to the lineup on Sunday in Vancouver._ Kolanos has not registered a point in six games this season._
“I talked with Krystofer (Kolanos) before the game against the Sharks and explained the situation,” said Coyotes head coach Bob Francis._ “I wanted Krys to watch tonight’s game and learn from this experience._ I anticipate he will handle the situation the right way and I expect him to be prepared for Sunday’s game against the Canucks.”
JUMPING UP IN THE PLAY– Phoenix defenseman Paul Mara finished Saturday’s game with one goal and two assists._ Mara now has 1-6-7 totals in his last three games.
A NIGHT OFF – With Coyotes goaltender Zac Bierk making his 2003-04 season debut, Sean Burke was the backup on Saturday night in San Jose.___
CLEARED WAIVERS – Coyotes forward Daniel Cleary cleared waivers on Saturday._ A decision on Cleary’s assignment is expected over the next couple of days.
SAVAGE INJURED – Phoenix left wing Brian Savage suffered a fractured thumb on Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs and is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks.
Phoenix – Brian Savage (Broken Thumb), Brian Boucher (Healthy), Krystofer Kolanos (Healthy)