Sharks

Late heroics give Sharks win over Kings in LA

Late heroics give Sharks win over Kings in LA

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LOS ANGELES -- After the Sharks and the Kings struggled to shoot any pucks into either net throughout a defense-dominated night, Joel Ward put his best foot forward.

Ward scored the tiebreaking goal on a long deflection off his skate with 7:10 to play, and San Jose rallied from a third-period deficit for a 2-1 victory over the Kings on Sunday night.

Melker Karlsson scored the tying goal early in the third before Ward got creative and lucky , using his left skate from the faceoff circle to redirect Barclay Goodrow's shot past Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick for his third goal of the season.

"I started playing soccer the last couple of days," Ward said with a laugh, referring to many hockey players' long-standing tradition of using soccer to warm up before games in arena hallways. "I don't know. I saw it coming my direction. I actually knew Timo (Meier) was on the back side, and I just tried to redirect it over to his area."

Instead, it somehow went straight into Los Angeles' net for the eventual winner in the latest chapter of this long-standing California rivalry.

Martin Jones made 26 saves for the Sharks, who have won six of seven overall after evening the season series with Los Angeles.

"Especially when you come back in the third period to win it, it's even more rewarding," Goodrow said. "It's always a tight-checking game against these guys."

Dustin Brown scored on a first-period power play for the Pacific Division-leading Kings, who have lost four of six after a 9-1-1 start. Quick stopped 31 shots, but Los Angeles lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

"I thought we played 20 (minutes) really well, and then 40 the way they wanted to play," Kings coach John Stevens said. "There were lots of issues before (Ward's) ricochet happened. It may look like an unlucky play, but there was an awful lot of things that could have gone better prior to that puck going into the net."

Captain Anze Kopitar extended his points streak to a career high-tying eight games with an assist for the Kings, but the game was appropriately low-scoring for a meeting of the NHL's two stingiest defensive teams.

"We just pulled back and we weren't attacking as much as we did in the first couple of periods," Kopitar said. "They were able to capitalize on that, but it was just a couple of fluky goals, really."

The Kings went ahead in the first period on Brown's redirection of Kopitar's shot for the Kings' sixth power play goal in six games.

The 33-year-old Brown was stripped of the Kings' captaincy last season and seemed to be on the downslope of his career with an immovable, multi-year contract and declining production.

But the two-time Stanley Cup winner has been utterly revitalized under new coach John Stevens. Playing with his usual physicality while rediscovering his offensive ability, Brown scored his eighth goal of this season nearly three months earlier than he hit the same mark last year, when he failed to crack 40 points for the fourth consecutive season.

After a scoreless second period featuring 15 saves by Quick, Karlsson tied it with his third goal of the season after a Kings clearing attempt took an odd deflection. Logan Couture got his Sharks-leading 15th point with an assist.

NOTES: Kopitar also has a seven-game assists streak, another career high. He leads the Kings with 21 points. Kopitar scored his 21st point last season on Jan. 12. ... Sharks RW Kevin Labanc returned to the lineup after a two-game stint in the minors. Jannik Hansen was a healthy scratch. ... Kings F Adrian Kempe returned to the lineup after missing one game. Rookie Michael Amadio was scratched for the first time since his NHL debut Oct. 26.

UP NEXT:
Sharks: Host Florida Panthers on Thursday to open a three-game homestand.

Kings: Host Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday in the third game of a five-game homestand.

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speed kills, and it claimed another two victims in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The "heavy" playing style that powered three combined championships in Southern California since 2007 was left in the dust by a pair of speedier division rivals, the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, en route to the only sweeps so far this postseason. 

San Jose learned this lesson firsthand. In a six-game series loss during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks could not keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins' team speed.

Pittsburgh deployed three, mobile defensive pairings and sprinkled speed on all four forward lines. San Jose, meanwhile, had a few fast forwards in the lineup and strong skaters among its top-four defensemen, but its speed was only a relative strength against teams in the Western Conference.

Following the loss in the Final, the Sharks have infused their lineup with speed and skating ability. Mikkel Boedker was signed the following summer, and Evander Kane was acquired at this year's trade deadline. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Marcus Sorensen debuted last season. Dylan DeMelo, Tim Heed, and Joakim Ryan played extended NHL minutes this season, and there's nary a Roman Polak in sight. 

Take it all together, and San Jose played at a high pace this season. Using team-level shot-attempt rates as a proxy for pace of play, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic did with the graph shown below, the Sharks played at the league's third-highest pace this season. 

The Ducks were pretty far behind the Sharks on the season, at a rate of about five fewer shot attempts per hour. Keep in mind that data includes 67 games of Cam Fowler, one of Anaheim's best skaters on the blueline who missed the entirety of the first round with a shoulder injury. The Golden Knights don't rank as highly as one might expect, but still played at a faster pace than the Kings.

Vegas didn't have the same inciting incident as San Jose to fill its roster with strong skaters, considering the expansion team didn't play its first game until October. Instead, the Golden Knights saw the writing on the wall, and placed a premium on skating ability in the expansion draft, and in adding to their team afterward. 

"That was our basis for who we chose," Vegas pro scout Kelly Kisio told NBC Sports California in a February interview. "Guys that had hockey sense, and guys that could skate. If you have those guys, they will somehow make it happen."

43-goal scorer William Karlsson is a burner, and they acquired another one, Tomas Tatar, at the trade deadline. Blue-chip blueliners Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore were prized for their mobility well before landing in Sin City. Even bottom-six forwards like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and depth defensemen like Jon Merrill are good skaters. 

The disparity was clear in Vegas' first-round series with Los Angeles. Five-on-five, only three teams in the first round have accounted for a higher percentage of expected goals entering Friday (Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals) than the Golden Knights, according to Corsica Hockey. 

Neither Vegas nor San jose will enjoy gap in skating ability against one another, however, setting up a what should be a standout second-round matchup. The games will be fast, but the length of the first-ever playoff series between the two should be anything but. 

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”