The Kings and their fans know all too well that the Kings did not make the playoffs a very fun event at home last year, as they dropped all three home playoff games to the Sharks last year during their first round playoff match up. On Monday, the Sharks will make their first visit to Los Angeles since they eliminated the Kings last year, and the Kings will look to show the Sharks that they aren’t going to have as much fun at Staples Center this time around.
The Kings already had a chance to exact a small measure of revenge on the Sharks this season when they made a trip to San Jose earlier this month, but failed to do so, falling 4-2 to the Sharks back on November 7th. The Sharks have just quietly been humming along playing consistent, solid hockey without much disappointment or controversy this season. San Jose is a very solid 13-6-1, and while they’re only one point ahead of the Kings, they’ve also played three less games. Before a 3-2 regulation loss to the Canucks on Saturday, the Sharks had won four straight games and six of their last seven.
The Sharks are a solid team just about everywhere. They have a ton of offensive firepower and are averaging 2.9 goals per game this year, ranking their offense ninth in the NHL. They’re allowing only 2.3 goals against per game, which ties their defense sixth with the Kings’ defense for sixth in the NHL. Their power play is converting on 21.3% of their opportunities, good for fifth in the NHL. Their only real weakness right now is their penalty kill, where San Jose is killing off 75% of their penalties, ranking their penalty kill 28th in the NHL. However, the Kings’ power play has been struggling big time lately, and are coming off a performance where they were unable to score a single power play goal against the worst penalty kill in the NHL. To be fair, they only had two opportunities, but the power play looked absolutely dreadful, it’s not like they were making things happen and just couldn’t find a way to score.
If the Kings can’t find a way to get some power play goals, then it could be another long night for the offense. Despite their atrocious penalty kill, the Sharks are still giving up very few goals, meaning that they are giving up very little when it comes to 5-on-5. Combine that with the Kings’ major problems scoring goals, especially at even strength, and it looks like the Kings once again aren’t going to be able to get anything going if they can’t do some damage on the power play. Both of the Kings’ goals against the Sharks earlier in the month were on the power play.
On the other side of things, the Kings will also have a tough time dealing with the Sharks offense. Led by the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe, it’s no secret as to why the Sharks are one of the better offensive teams in the league. Filling out the forwards for San Jose are the likes of Michal Handzus, Andrew Desjardins, Jamie McGinn, Frazer McLaren, Torrey Mitchell, Brad Winchester, and Andrew Murray. One will be a healthy scratch. James Sheppard is on the injured reserve.
On defense, they’re led by a very formidable duo of Brent Burns and Dan Boyle. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jim Vandermeer, Colin White, Douglas Murray, Jason Demers and Justin Braun make up the remainder of the Sharks defense, but two of them will be healthy scratches.
In goal, it’s expected to be Antti Niemi. On the year, Niemi is 9-3-1 with a shutout to go along with a 2.37 GAA and a .921 Sv%. However, it could also be Thomas Greiss, who has been doing the backup duties so far this year with Antero Nittymaki on the injured reserve. Greiss is 4-3-0, and his 1.99 GAA and .929 Sv% are awfully impressive.
For the Kings… Yeah, there’s going to be some changes. Terry Murray brought out the blender that we all missed so much and here’s what he was left with: Anze Kopitar between Dustin Brown and Trent Hunter, Mike Richards between Simon Gagne and Jarret Stoll, Andrei Loktionov between Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams, and Colin Fraser between Ethan Moreau and Kevin Westgarth, the fourth line being the only line that was left alone. Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, it appears, will still be the healthy scratches.
Those lines are, uh… Wow. Interesting. You can say that Trent Hunter had a good game yesterday, if you don’t count all of the goals that he missed, so Terry Murray wants to see what he can do on the first line, I guess… The struggling Dustin Brown will hope that moving to his opposite wing on the left and playing with Kopitar will get him going. Hey, who knows. Hunter looked alright when him and Kyle Clifford were with Kopitar yesterday. The second line, I don’t mind. Simon Gagne and Mike Richards, I’ve been dying to see together all season. Stoll should get more opportunities to create offense, too. On the third line, Andrei Loktionov gets to move back to centre, which is a good thing. Playing with Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams, hey, that might not be a bad line. Loktionov is clearly more comfortable at centre, and Williams hasn’t scored this month, so he needed a change. Maybe he and Loktionov can click, and Clifford can open up space for them. The fourth line, I’d rather have Richardson and Lewis in there instead of Moreau and Westgarth, but it’s just the fourth line, anyways.
Also, Dustin Penner has been cleared to play, but isn’t expected to be activated off the injured reserve to play tomorrow. The Kings likely want more time to decide how to make room for him. The easy decision, of course, would be to send Andrei Loktionov down, but I certainly don’t want to see that happen and the Kings may not want to see that happen either, so maybe they’re deciding whether they should do that or make another move, of the trade or waiver variety…
So, we’ll see how that works out. Clearly the Kings needed a change, and Murray gave them one of his patented “pull names out of a hat to make the lines” (kidding). I actually don’t mind the lines, although Hunter on the first line looks kind of, well, really odd. We’ll see if he can click up there with Brown and Kopitar, but I’m not holding my breath.
On defense, they got a bit of a shake up, too. Rob Scuderi stays with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell gets reunited with Slava Voynov, and the disaster pairing of Jack Johnson and Matt Greene gets another chance to try and not be so awful. Davis Drewiske will be the healthy scratch again, while Alec Martinez is practicing, but has not yet been cleared for contact.
In goal, no major changes. No, Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff haven’t been called up. It’s still Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, and Quick will get the call against the Sharks.
Well, the Kings will certainly have a bit of a new look when they play the Sharks on Monday. Will the new lines click and inject some life into this team and help them get a much-needed victory, or will the Sharks force Terry Murray to throw his lines back into the blender once again?