SAN JOSE – The Sharks could have approached consecutive games with the Kings with the mindset of burying their rival in the standings at what is nearly the midway point of the regular season.
Instead, Los Angeles appeared to have the attitude that it was fighting for its life. The Kings jumped all over the Sharks in the first period in each game, including on Tuesday, a 2-1 overtime win against San Jose at SAP Center.
Instead of opening up a potential 13-point lead on Los Angeles, the Sharks are now ahead by just six. The Kings swept the home-and-home, including Saturday’s 3-2 regulation victory at Staples Center.
“We had a great opportunity. We didn’t bring our best games,” Logan Couture said. “Give them credit, they played well, but they took it to us at the start of both of these games we just played.”
Joe Pavelski said: “We haven’t been as good as we need to be [the] last few games.”
Tuesday’s game was there for the Sharks, though. Despite getting outshot 16-6 in the opening frame, their first period wasn’t nearly as poor as it was on Saturday, when they were frequently caught running around in their own end. They escaped with a scoreless tie, and took the lead on Couture’s second period marker at 11:56.
“I think they had a lot of zone time,” Martin Jones said. “If you look at the first period, it’s not like we were giving up a ton of grade-A chances. I thought we defended pretty well.”
That 1-0 advantage remained until the third, when the white-hot Jeff Carter drew a penalty and scored the equalizer three minutes in.
The Sharks responded, though, and an entertaining, back-and-forth final 17 minutes commenced with each team getting a number of prime chances. The Sharks had the better of them, and their more dangerous attack was at least partially due to coach Pete DeBoer switching up his lines, including putting rookie Timo Meier on the top line and benching Mikkel Boedker.
Meier, who has shown no fear in getting to the front of the net in his nascent career, had a few good opportunities with his new linemates to bang in a loose puck or two.
“Just keep it simple, get pucks to the net. Fight for some space,” Meier said of his approach.
DeBoer said: “I thought we were getting better in the second even before we changed some things around. … We made some big changes in the third just because I just felt we needed that at that point.”
As has happened far too often this season, though, the Sharks just weren't been able to find that extra goal. They’ve scored two or fewer in regulation in six of their last seven, and although they’re still winning more than they’re losing, the lack of goal scoring is getting frustrating.
“We’ve got to start bearing down on some chances and score some goals,” Couture said. “I thought we created a lot in the third. Just not finishing right now, or all season. It’s tough to win in this league when you score one.”
What would have helped against the Kings, though, would have been showing up with the same kind of intensity from the outset that was on display from Los Angeles. It’s tough to break out on the scoreboard when you’re wasting 20 minutes, and Pavelski indicated the Sharks simply weren’t working hard enough from the drop of the puck.
“As we stuck our noses in there a little bit more we start winning a few more battles, and that’s when things opened up a little bit for us,” said the captain.
Had it been there earlier, the Sharks might have at least earned a split. Instead, the division standings are much tighter than they were two games ago.