LOS ANGELES – Not only was Los Angeles the much more rested team headed into Wednesday’s game with the Sharks, having not played in four days while San Jose was on a back-to-back, the Kings were also the hottest team in hockey. They brought a five-game winning streak into the meeting with their biggest rival, the longest active streak in the league.
There were no illusions on the San Jose side that this was going to be a tough one.
The Sharks, though, have been playing pretty well lately, too. After a 4-1 win, now they can perhaps lay claim to being the hottest in the league, having won five of their last six while opening up a three-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division.
Three points from Logan Couture, two goals from rookie forwards and another strong outing by goalie Martin Jones against his old mates were the keys to Wednesday’s victory.
“I feel our game right now, we’re finding our stride,” said Couture, who posted two goals and one assist. “Inconsistent at the start, but I think we’re playing some of our better hockey right now.”
The Kings had the early territorial edge, even after Kevin Labanc’s second career goal on a two-on-one with Couture staked San Jose a lead at 3:32. The Sharks remained committed in their defensive end, though, keeping the Kings to the outside, and waited to pounce again.
They did, late in the first. A nice shift by the second line of Joel Ward, Joonas Donskoi and Couture was capped off by Couture’s marker at 19:05, while Mikkel Boedker nicely sprung Ryan Carpenter on a two-on-one for the rookie’s first NHL goal just 30 seconds later.
Getting goals from Labanc and Carpenter, who was filling in for an injured Chris Tierney at the time of his goal, was especially welcomed (Tierney returned to start the second).
“We needed some contributions tonight,” DeBoer said. “It’s a tough situation, back-to-back, playing last night at home, L.A. is rested. You look at their home record (9-2-0 before Wednesday). We knew this was going to be a really tough game, and we challenged the group to have contributions from everybody.”
Playing in just his fourth career game, Carpenter was overjoyed to see his shot beat Peter Budaj. He has helped to generate a goal in two of the last three games, screening Jonathan Bernier on Dylan DeMelo’s score on Saturday against Anaheim.
“You never know if you’re going to score one or not, so it’s nice to get one,” Carpenter said. “Now you don’t have to think about it anymore.”
Couture praised both rookies.
“[Labanc] has done a great job. [On his goal] I knew if he got it to him he was going to bury it, he’s got a great shot. [Carpenter] has played well. In the games that he’s played he hasn’t been rewarded on the scoresheet, so it was nice to see him [score a goal] tonight.”
Brent Burns said: “They’ve been playing great. Big, strong kids. It’s huge when they chip in. It’s a big part [of the game]. We need that.”
Although they scored three in the first period, the third period was perhaps the Sharks’ most impressive. Despite playing against Arizona the night before, they had the energy to keep the Kings from recording a single shot on goal for the first 12-plus minutes while holding a 3-1 edge.
Couture’s empty netter from the other side of the rink was the final nail in the Kings’ coffin after Jones made some timely saves in the later minutes.
DeBoer said: “I loved our third period with the lead. I thought we really locked things down, and that’s how we want to play.”
The Sharks are no strangers to blowing leads to the Kings, of course, and Couture recalled Game 5 of last year’s first round playoff series when the Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 lead only to see the Kings storm back to tie it. Perhaps that prior experience brought a little extra drive and focus for those final 20 minutes.
“We’ve played these guys enough to know that they can change things pretty quickly,” Couture said.
On Wednesday, though, the Kings were never able to recover from the early deficit. The Sharks have allowed just eight goals in their last six games, and shut down a Los Angeles team that had averaged 3.40 goals-per game during their five-game winning streak.
“They still got a few looks and Jonesy was there, but I think every time we got on the ice against [Anze] Kopitar or [Jeff] Carter, it was a real commitment by all five guys on the ice to defend, and defend hard,” DeBoer said. “I thought we did a good job.”