Sharks-Kings: What to watch for


Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

SAN JOSE The Sharks and Kings will meet for the first of six games this season, and the first since San Jose eliminated L.A. in the first round of the playoffs last April.

The matchup between the two California clubs has been pretty good for awhile, but those who were around for that hard-fought postseason battle agree it takes a playoff series to really get a rivalry going.

Last year with the playoffs, thats usually is what develops rivalries when you get to go at it in an intense environment like that, said Ryane Clowe. Its always been a good game, and now the fact that we did get to play them last year in the playoffs will only up the ante a little bit.

Im sure there will be some motivational carryover from the playoffs last year, said Todd McLellan. I think both teams have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and the way they play.

The Kings will be trying to snap a four-game winless streak, while San Jose will attempt to rebound from losing a third period lead to Nashville on Thursday.

In the crease: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi will look to rebound from a couple of rough outings in a row. The Kings have had trouble on the scoreboard lately, but there are no such problems in their net.

One only has to look at the numbers to see the difference. Niemi has a 3.09 goals-against average and .892 save percentage, while Jonathan Quick is fifth in the league with a 1.68 GAA and .941 save percentage.

Quick brings another element to his game other than just stopping the puck, according to Todd McLellan.

Hes very good at initiating the breakouts so you have to be more aware of where youre placing the puck, he said.

Could the Sharks will try and use those lively new boards to their advantage again, as they did when Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture teamed up for a goal against Nashville?

Line it up: It appears the Sharks and Kings will both be trying out some new line combinations for tonights game. For San Jose, look for Marty Havlat to play on the right side of Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe. The top line of Thornton, Pavelski and Couture remains untouched, while the third and fourth lines are the same as how they were two games ago.

Los Angeles, which has scored two goals or less in regulation in 11 of its 13 games, is also tinkering. Anze Kopitar, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams form the teams top line, while Mike Richards will be with Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner.

Penner, specifically, is a guy that the Kings would like to get going as he has just one assist in 11 games.

Mike sees the ice and makes plays, and Im hoping that generates some more opportunities for Penner and his game, to get his confidence on track on the scoring part of it, said Kings coach Terry Murray.

With as much skill as the Kings possess up front, its probably just a matter of time before they get the offense going. McLellan points out, though, that L.A. is a team that can get away with scoring slumps thanks to defensive depth and goaltending. The Kings are third in the league in goals-against per game (2.00).

When youre only giving up two a night, you can afford to struggle on offense a little bit and win some games, said McLellan. Its a very good team over there, one of the best well play, I think, during the year.
Improve the PK: The Sharks have allowed at least one power play goal in five of their last six games (14-for-20, 70 percent). The one game they didnt, however, was against Pittsburgh which oddly enough didnt have a single power play all game.

Thats dropped them to 29th in the NHL in that category (73.2 percent overall).

Patrick Marleau isnt hitting the panic button just yet, though.

Our numbers dont show it, but weve done a lot of good things, he said. We want those numbers to get better, and theres only one way to do it by doing it right and making sure we work hard. But, we dont need to take extra penalties to prove that point.

One thing the Sharks do have going for them is that they have stayed out of the box. They have been shorthanded just 41 times, the third fewest in the league.
Odds and ends: The Sharks won the regular season series last year with L.A., posting a 3-1-2 record. That includes two shootout wins. Kopitar has six points in the last five games. Joe Pavelski has 15 points in his last eight games (7g, 6a). The teams meet again on Nov. 28 in Los Angeles.

Sharks seal season series with win over Kings


Sharks seal season series with win over Kings


LOS ANGELES -- There's nothing like a visit with the Los Angeles Kings to get Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks on top of their game.

Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Jones made 35 saves in the Sharks' third straight victory over their longtime rivals, 4-1 Monday.

Barclay Goodrow and Mikkel Boedker ended lengthy goal droughts for the Sharks, who built a three-goal lead during another strong game by Jones against his former Los Angeles teammates.

The goalie who won a Stanley Cup ring as Jonathan Quick's backup followed up his 2-0 win over the Kings at the Shark Tank on Dec. 23 with another near-shutout of Los Angeles. Jones improved to 9-3-2 in 14 career appearances against his former organization, but he spread the praise for a comprehensive win throughout the Sharks' lineup.

"It's easy to prepare for games against these guys, or any division game," Jones said. "We know what the standings are like, and what these games mean. We play well as a team (against the Kings). When we play in the offensive zone that much, it makes everybody's job easier."

Dylan DeMelo returned from a three-game injury absence with two assists for his second career multipoint game for the Sharks, who were in control from the opening faceoff of a rare matinee at Staples Center. Joonas Donskoi also had two assists, and Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal.

"You battle a bit more when you're playing a rival and a division team that's ahead of you in the standings," Tierney said. "That's what this team is built for, is playing those tight games where you try to lock it down."

Trevor Lewis ended Jones' shutout bid with 7:18 to play, but the Kings lost their fourth straight to match their longest skid of the season. Los Angeles has been outscored 8-3 in losses to its two California rivals since returning from the bye week last Saturday.

"We had some guys that were really off tonight," Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. "I don't know if the break affected us that way or not, but certainly something did. We've got to regroup here. I feel like we got some good efforts out of our key veteran guys, but they cannot do it on their own."

Darcy Kuemper stopped 29 shots in his first start since Dec. 16 for the Kings, who have slumped into third place after leading the Pacific Division for a good chunk of the season. With a 5-7-3 record in division play, LA is just one point ahead of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

"It's tough. We were ahead of the pack for a while there, and now we're right in the thick of things," Lewis said. "We've just got to figure it out in a hurry here."

The Sharks went ahead just 4:38 in when the Kings lapsed on defense, allowing Donskoi to make a pass across the crease to an unchecked Tierney for his 11th goal into an open net.

Goodrow got his third goal of the season midway through the second period, converting DeMelo's rebound in the slot. The goal was his first since Dec. 7.

San Jose had an extra step on the Kings throughout the first two periods and nearly added to its lead in the closing seconds, but Los Angeles defenseman Christian Folinstopped a shot with his skate on the goal line.

Boedker added his first goal since Nov. 24 in the third period, ending a 12-game drought.

Lewis got help from Marian Gaborik in scoring his 11th goal. The grinding forward scored a career-high 12 goals last season while playing in all 82 games.

NOTES: Kuemper lost in regulation for the first time in his debut season with the Kings. He is 5-1-3. ... Quick got the day off for the Kings after nine consecutive starts. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner gave up three goals in LA's loss to Anaheim last Saturday. ... Sharks D Tim Heed was scratched in DeMelo's place.


Sharks: At the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Kings: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in just their third game in 12 days.

Sharks can make serious standings push beginning with MLK matinee vs Kings


Sharks can make serious standings push beginning with MLK matinee vs Kings

The Sharks are in the midst of one of their toughest stretches of the season. Dating back to Saturday, they’ll play eight games in 13 nights ahead of the All-Star break.

As it stands right now, six of those eight games are against teams within two points of a playoff spot. San Jose will end up playing Arizona, the only team that isn’t, twice after they complete a back-to-back in the desert on Tuesday.

The first half of that begins with a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee against the Los Angeles Kings, whom the Sharks have a real opportunity to finally catch in the standings over the next two weeks.

San Jose currently has two games in hand on their in-state rivals, but trails them by three points for the Pacific Division’s final playoff spot. By the break, they will only have one game in hand on the Kings, and zero by Feb. 2.

Until then, the Sharks have some control their own destiny, beginning with Monday’s matchup. If they win on Monday, as well as their two games in hand, they can leapfrog the Kings in the standings, and could even surpass the red-hot Flames to grab hold of home ice advantage in the first round.

After the break, however, any standings movement will be largely out of San Jose’s hands. The scheduling quirks and bye weeks from the first half of the season will have evened out, and if the Sharks can’t catch the Kings or Flames before the break, they’d need them to struggle in order to do so after.

This stretch of eight-in-13, then, is where the rubber hits the proverbial road. Or, if you’d prefer, where the steel hits the proverbial ice.

Of course, that also means the Sharks will have to improve their play quickly. Since Dec. 14, San Jose is just 6-3-3, and has only scored 1.96 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play over that span, according to Natural Stat Trick.

That’s the sixth-lowest rate in the league since, but what’s made matters worse for the normally low-scoring Sharks is that they’ve allowed 2.79 five-on-five goals per 60 minutes as well, the seventh-most since Dec. 14.

The power play, converting at a 30.2 percent clip, has been the league’s second-best since mid-December and is largely keeping the Sharks afloat, even as their even strength game and penalty kill (77.1 percent since Dec. 14, 20th in the NHL).

In other words, the Sharks are in desperate need of a turnaround. Fortunately for San Jose, there’s no better time than the present.