Los Angeles Kings

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

kings-sharks.jpg
USATSI

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.

Chippy game sees Sharks push past rival Kings

sharkspostgame.jpg
AP

Chippy game sees Sharks push past rival Kings

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Martin Jones had 28 saves, Joe Pavelski scored for the second time in three games and the San Jose Sharks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 on Saturday night.

Marcus Sorensen also had a goal as the Sharks improved to 5-1-2 over their last eight games. The Kings are 2-3-1 over their last six and have lost four of their last five away from home.

The Sharks broke a scoreless tie midway through the second when Sorenson pushed through three defenders and flicked an off-balance backhand shot past Jonathan Quick for his third goal at 10:01 of the second period.

Jones, who came up with the Kings as Quick's backup from 2013-15, recorded his 100th career victory. Jones had lost his previous three starts going into Saturday and was 1-3-2 with a 4.08 goals-against average in December.

The Sharks scored five seconds into their fifth power play when Pavelski redirected Brent Burns' shot at 7:35 of the third period. Pavelski's eighth goal came five seconds after Jake Muzzin was called for holding.

Pavelski also scored in a 5-3 loss to Edmonton on Monday. His goal was his 10th in 30 games against Quick.

The Kings entered Saturday boasting the NHL's best penalty kill but have allowed at least one power-play goal in seven of their last eight games.

Los Angeles blew four power-play chances against a team ranked No. 2 in the penalty killing department.

NOTES: Kings G Jack Campbell was recalled on an emergency basis. ... LW Kyle Clifford went on injured reserve with an upper-body injury retroactive to Dec. 16. ... Sharks C Logan Couture was out for a third game since being concussed Dec. 15. San Jose doesn't have a timetable for his return. ... D Joakim Ryan was recalled from the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL and F Daniel O'Regan was sent to the minor league team. O'Regan was part of a beleaguered fourth line that coach Pete DeBoer benched in the third period of Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks. ... F Joel Ward, a scratch on Thursday, played the fourth line Saturday. ... D Paul Martin rejoined the team a day after sitting out the fifth game of a conditioning assignment with flu symptoms. He was a scratch Saturday.

UP NEXT

Los Angeles: Hosts Vegas on Thursday night in a showdown for first place in the Pacific Division.

San Jose: Hosts Calgary on Thursday night.

Without Couture, these Sharks players are key to shutting down Kings' top line

hertl-dustinbrown-sharks-kings-2016-ap.jpg
AP

Without Couture, these Sharks players are key to shutting down Kings' top line

Entering Saturday, only one trio spent more time together than the Los Angeles Kings’ top line of rookie Alex Iafallo, captain Anze Kopitar, and his predecessor Dustin Brown. Just three combinations scored more goals than Iafallo, Kopitar, and Brown’s 17, and they’ve given the Sharks particular trouble.

Kopitar and Brown scored four of Los Angeles’ five goals in their first two match-ups with San Jose. Three of those came in the first game, a 4-1 drubbing of the Sharks in their second game of the season.

The fourth was the Kings’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Sharks on November 12. That, at least in part, came down to matchups.

The first time around, Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic spent no more than two minutes of five-on-five ice time against Los Angeles’ top trio, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Kings’ first line controlled the puck away from the Sharks’ shutdown pairing, and dominated in terms of puck possession.

Even without the benefit of last change, San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer was able to hard match Vlasic and Braun against each player for about 10 minutes in the second matchup last month. Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Pavelski were the forwards that lined up against them most, as DeBoer threw his lines into the proverbial blender.  

There’s little doubt DeBoer will continue to rely heavily upon Braun and Vlasic, but it’s a bit of a mystery which forward line he’ll utilize. With Couture still recovering from a concussion, it’s likely shutdown duties will fall to his old linemate, Tomas Hertl, based on what the Sharks have done in his absence.

On Thursday, Brock Boeser led the Canucks in five-on-five ice time. Boeser also leads the Canucks in scoring, and spent nearly half of his night against Hertl.

Matched up head-to-head, the Sharks controlled 70.83 percent of the shot attempts and 69.23 percent of the scoring chances when Hertl and Boeser were on the ice. Each line scored a goal, but the ice was clearly tilted in San Jose’s favor.

The Sharks have controlled possession when Hertl lines up against the Kings’ top line this season, but in only two of those matched up minutes did the 24-year-old man the middle. If Thursday was any indication, he’ll see Iaffalo, Kopitar, and Brown for a lot longer.

The Kings are dangerous aside from their top line, of course, but stopping them is key to limiting Los Angeles. As long as they see plenty of Vlasic, Braun, and Hertl, the Sharks will be in a strong position to do just that.