Rewind: Sharks slow starts help Kings get back into the race

Rewind: Sharks slow starts help Kings get back into the race

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.

Could have.

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.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

[RELATED: Listen to Jumbo Joe mic'd up at a recent Sharks practice]

Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Whether or not Joe Thornton is a national treasure is debatable, but he's certainly a regional one.

The future Hall of Famer was mic'd up at a recent Sharks' practice, and he put that quality on display. The 40-year-old didn't appear as if his age has caught up to him, as he was quite talkative and involved throughout.

Just watch for yourself:

Whether it was chasing on the forecheck or missing an empty net, the eldest member of the Sharks looked anything but. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in recent memory, Thornton's energy is certainly palpable, and that bodes well for the Sharks as they attempt to get back to the playoffs for the 20th time in the last 22 seasons.

Thornton signed a one-year contract at the beginning of the month to return to the Sharks for his 15th season in San Jose. He'll be one of four alternate captains on the team, after Logan Couture was named the 10th full-time captain in franchise history, taking over for the departed Joe Pavelski.

With Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist leaving in free agency during the offseason, the Sharks are counting on several prospects to take a step forward this coming season -- and on Thornton to help them succeed at the NHL level. While line pairings are still in flux, it wouldn't be shocking whatsoever to see Thornton paired with one of those prospects on his wing.

[RELATED: Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as season nears]

Based on Thornton's mic'd up session, he'll be talking that prospects' ear off all game long.