Michal Handzus in game in San Jose during his tenure with the Kings. Tonight, Handzus will face his old team for the first time: Thanks to allducks.com

Michal Handzus in a game in San Jose during his tenure with the Kings. Tonight, Handzus will face his old team for the first time: Thanks to allducks.com

It doesn’t get any easier for the Los Angeles Kings tonight, as they try and bust out of their 0-2-2 and 1-3-2 slide when they head to San Jose for a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff series with the Sharks. It was a thrilling series, especially if you were a Sharks fan, as they won all three overtime games, overcame a 4-0 deficit in Game 3, and won the series in six games, clinching it on, yup, an overtime goal. The Kings scored 20 goals in that six-game series, but in 13 games this season have scored only 28 goals, which is amazing, because the Kings didn’t even have Anze Kopitar for that series, and he has so far and away been the most productive player for the Kings this year, you’d think they’d easily be the worst offensive team in the league without him, but they did just fine offensively without him in the playoffs last year, so the Kings will hope that the sight of those black and teal jerseys will help reignite the offense.

The Sharks are surrendering an average of 2.75 goals against per game, which ranks them 19th in the NHL, and at home they are only 2-2-1 on the year, so maybe there is some hope that the Kings will finally be able to put up a few goals tonight, and maybe even record three or more regulation goals, which if they do, will just be the third time in 14 games this season that they’ve done that. The Sharks have cooled off a bit lately, they’re coming off an overtime loss at home to Nashville, and are 1-1-1 in their last three games to follow up a five-game winning streak.

Up front, the Sharks are averaging 2.92 goals per game, which ranks them ninth in the NHL, and with a formidable top-six of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat, and Ryane Clowe, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. To fill out their bottom-six will be former King Michal Handzus, as well as Andrew Desjardins, Torrey Mitchell, Jamie McGinn, Andrew Murray, and Brad Winchester.

On the blue line, leading the way are two of the game’s premier defensemen and big contributors to their offensive success in Dan Boyle and off-season acquisition from the Minnesota Wild, Brent Burns. Rounding out a formidable defense corps in San Jose are Douglas Murray, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, and Colin White.

In goal, it’s expected to be Antti Niemi backed up by Thomas Greiss, as normal backup Antero Nittymaki is on the injured reserve, where he has spent all of this season so far, while Alex Stallock, despite being listed on their roster on their website, I believe is in the minors.

As far as the Kings go, it’s a slightly new look up front. Dustin Penner moves up to the second line with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, while Scott Parse drops down to the third, who swaps wing spots with Ethan Moreau (who, by the way, was fined a league maximum $2,500 for his hit on Chris Kunitz on Saturday, and was not happy about it…) and moves to the right of Jarret Stoll. Trevor Lewis is back in, in a fourth line role, taking Kevin Westgarth’s spot on the right. The first line of Simon Gagne, Anze Kopitar, and Justin Williams, the line that generated both of the Kings’ goals last game, is the only one to remain intact, while there are no changes on the back end, with Willie Mitchell skating alongside Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi with Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez with Matt Greene. Trent Hunter, Kevin Westgarth, and Davis Drewiske will be healthy scratches, while Jonathan Quick gets the start in goal, his sixth straight start and 12th in 14 games this season, but Jonathan Bernier will start at home tomorrow against the Nashville Predators. Expect to see a little bit more of Bernier as the season wares on.

It’s the first of six meetings this season between these two Pacific Division and California rivals, and the two teams that many expect to battle it out all season long for the top spot in the division. Anze Kopitar will look to make up for missing the series against the Sharks last year because of injury and keep his hot start going tonight. The Kings may have lost the series against the Sharks last year, but it was mostly because they couldn’t win at home, dropping all three games at Staples Center. After losing Game 1 in overtime in San Jose, the Kings won the next two games at the Shark Tank, outscoring them 7-1 in Games 2 and 5. The Kings will hope to continue their success in San Jose tonight, as well as finally break through on the offensive side of it and bust out of their slump and exact a measure of revenge after losing in the playoffs to the Sharks last year. Will they be able to do it, or will the Sharks make an early-season statement that they’re still the team to beat in the Pacific?

 

 

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