Los Angeles Kings

Sharks closely following Kings blueprint early in the season

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USATSI

Sharks closely following Kings blueprint early in the season

The Sharks' 2-1 win over the Kings on Sunday night was, well, very Kings-like.

At even strength, San Jose largely controlled play, limiting Los Angeles and peppering pucks at Jonathan Quick. Much like those Cup-winning Kings teams, the Sharks only had two goals to show for their efforts. 

In fact, they’ve been pretty Kings-like all season. 

Plenty of digital ink has been spilled here and elsewhere about San Jose’s inability to score. They had scored the fifth-fewest goals in the league (43) entering Monday, and the second-fewest during five-on-five play (24). 

The Stanley Cup champion Kings teams weren’t offensive world-beaters either, ranking 29th and 25th, respectively, in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Those squads controlled play, killed penalties, and boasted strong defensive depth, led by a goaltender capable of catching fire and carrying his team in the postseason. 

Sound familiar? 

It should, because San Jose is in the top six in both major measures of puck possession early in the season, according to Puck on Net. The penalty kill has killed off 88.5% of its opportunities, the second-best mark in the league. 

Brent Burns is off to a slow start, but the emergence of  Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan has solidified what was already one of the league’s best bluelines. Martin Jones’ even strength save percentage remains in the middle of the pack, but that may not matter much if the Sharks continue to limit chances. 

Of course, similar strengths mean there are similar concerns, too. So far, the Sharks have scored on just 8.2 percent of their shots, the 23rd-worst mark in the league. 

The Kings were 30th and 29th in shooting percentage in the regular season of their Cup campaigns, and although there’s hope San Jose will convert more, Los Angeles shows it’s far from a guarantee. 

If that continues, the margin for error becomes razor thin, just as it was for the Kings. Despite winning two Stanley Cups, Los Angeles did not win the Pacific Division during that stretch. They finished 16 points out in 2014, and needed a late-season swing (as well as a new head coach) just to make the postseason in 2012. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, even a slight defensive downturn would provide a hurdle on their path to the postseason. The season’s first two games, in which San Jose allowed nine goals and scored only three, are proof of that. 

It's still very early in the season, and San Jose has a long way to go until they're mentioned in the same breath as Los Angeles' title-winning teams. They still trail the Southern California rivals by four points in the division, let alone in Stanley Cup count. 

So far, though, the they're closely following the Kings’ blueprint. It’s led to success through 16 games, but the true test is if it leads to 16 wins in April, May, and June.

Late heroics give Sharks win over Kings in LA

Late heroics give Sharks win over Kings in LA

BOX SCORE

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.

Sharks were unlucky and poor in Saturday's loss to Kings

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USATSI

Sharks were unlucky and poor in Saturday's loss to Kings

It’s better to be lucky than good, but it’s worse to be unlucky and bad. The San Jose Sharks were both in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings’ third goal was textbook. Well, it was if we’re talking about a physics class. as the puck bounced off of Brenden Dillon’s stick, Joe Thornton’s jersey and past Jones. The fourth might as well have been set to “Yakety Sax” when Jones dropped a dump-in and left the puck on a platter for ... Sharks forward Melker Karlsson?

Two weird goals in less than two minutes ended Martin Jones’ night and all but sealed San Jose’s second loss of the season. It’d be tempting to chalk it up to bad luck, but that does not paint the whole picture.

The Kings may have been lucky, but they were also very good.

They outshot the Sharks 39-25 in all situations, including a 27-23 advantage at even strength. The ice was tilted well in Los Angeles’ favor, and they spent extended stretches in San Jose’s defensive zone.

Frankly, it could have been worse. Luck may not have been on San Jose’s side all night, but it certainly was on the penalty kill. The Sharks pressured the puck down a man, but the Kings were able to mitigate that pressure easily and generate plenty of chances. An inch here or there, and perhaps Jones is pulled sooner.

The Sharks weren’t inches away from getting back in the game. They didn’t do much at even strength, and they did even less on the power play.

It was an area in which the team struggled last season, and one they don’t appear much better in after two games. They scored twice with the man advantage in Wednesday’s season opener, albeit off of a broken play and a deflected pass. That process doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, even if the results do.

Luckily, the Sharks don’t play again until Thursday. There’s time to diagnose what’s ailed them, and to overcome their first 0-2 start since 2005, when Joe Thornton was still in Boston. The Sharks won’t need to turn back the clock that far to find solutions, but it’s clear they need to do something differently.

So sure, the Sharks were unlucky to allow some of the goals they gave up on Saturday. The loss still could have been worse. And if they don’t manage to improve their play, luck will be the least of their concerns.