SAN JOSE -- The Sharks got a lot out of Saturday's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, starting with the return of defenseman Brent Burns and 65 minutes of shutout hockey from Antti Niemi.
But what they didn't get -- a goal or a win -- is what mattered most.
San Jose saw its winless streak extended to four games after a 1-0 shootout loss to Phoenix as goalie Mike Smith blanked the Sharks for the fourth time in two years. The outcome was decided when Niemi gave up goals to Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata while Smith stopped shots by Michal Handzus and James Sheppard.
Still, the mood in the Sharks locker room was anything but desolate as the team saw its perfect record after seven games drop to 7-2-2 as San Jose departs on its annual February two-week trip that opens Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I thought overall it was a really good game, a fun game to play, a hard-fought game that was played clean," Ryane Clowe said. "When you're in a 0-0 game it's frustrating because one of those go in and you might win."
Count Clowe among the most frustrated. Still looking for his first goal of the season and moved to the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski for a second game, Clowe got a game-high seven shots on Smith, had five others blocked and saw three others go wide.
"He's starting to come into his own," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Clowe. "I thought he really drove the puck hard. He was a big man, he was a load to handle. When he's doing that, he's a heck of a player."
Though it didn't score, that line accounted for 11 of San Jose's 33 shots on Smith. The trade-off, however was an off night for San Jose's second line, as Logan Couture failed to register a shot while Patrick Marleau and Marty Havlat combined for just three.
McLellan had hedged Friday when asked if Burns might be in the lineup against Phoenix, saying that while he was close to being ready, that might be pushing it. Burns missed training camp and the first 10 games of the season with an undisclosed lower-body injury believed to be related to complications from hernia surgery last May.
"It was kind of what I expected -- a little bit of a blur first period, then you kind of get into it a little bit," Burns said of his return from an injury he still won't talk about. "You just try to play simple."
Burns is considered a cornerstone of the Sharks defense, having been given a five-year, $28.8 million contract extension before he had played his first game with San Jose. Against Phoenix, he was paired with Brad Stuart.
The 0-0 game was the 10th in Sharks history, and despite the ultimate outcome, Niemi earned his first shutout of the season and 20th of his career. From his vantage point, the game's focus shifted quickly from scoring goals to preventing them.
"Because there was no scoring early, it made it more important to not let the other team score," said Niemi, who made 21 saves but was beaten by backhand shots from both Coyotes he faced in the shootout.
The biggest of Smith's saves might have been the one at 6:21 of the third period when the 6-foot-4 Phoenix goalie did the splits to stop a slap shot by defenseman Justin Braun pinching in from the point.
Special teams have been going in opposite directions for the Sharks lately, and that trend continued against Phoenix as the Coyotes came up short on three power plays, extending San Jose's streak of success on the penalty kill to 34 for 34. The San Jose power play went 0 for 4 and now is 1 for 25 in its past six games.
Which, of course, means McLellan and the coaching staff were probably conjuring up power-play improvements on the flight to Ohio after Saturday's game.
"We'll have to look at the personnel and move some people around," he said. "Obviously it's not working with the groups we have now."
Other than that, McLellan seemed to accept his team's effort in the shootout loss, pending further review on the team plane.
"Both teams played hard, both teams played very well defensively," he said. "There weren't many opportunities given up. I thought we generated enough to have a chance to win. But we didn't beat a real good goaltender, so I'll have to look at how aggressive we were in and around the blue paint."
Wilson made a separate roster move that did give 29 other NHL teams a chance to pick up another defenseman, Nick Petrecki, a first-round pick in 2007 who was already in Worcester on a conditioning assignment, but had remained on the San Jose roster.
If Petrecki is claimed, he will be the second Sharks prospect lost through waivers this season as left wing Frazer McLaren was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 31.