SAN JOSE The Sharks and Kings will meet for the first of six games this season, and the first since San Jose eliminated L.A. in the first round of the playoffs last April.
The matchup between the two California clubs has been pretty good for awhile, but those who were around for that hard-fought postseason battle agree it takes a playoff series to really get a rivalry going.
Last year with the playoffs, thats usually is what develops rivalries when you get to go at it in an intense environment like that, said Ryane Clowe. Its always been a good game, and now the fact that we did get to play them last year in the playoffs will only up the ante a little bit.
Im sure there will be some motivational carryover from the playoffs last year, said Todd McLellan. I think both teams have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and the way they play.
The Kings will be trying to snap a four-game winless streak, while San Jose will attempt to rebound from losing a third period lead to Nashville on Thursday.
In the crease: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi will look to rebound from a couple of rough outings in a row. The Kings have had trouble on the scoreboard lately, but there are no such problems in their net.
One only has to look at the numbers to see the difference. Niemi has a 3.09 goals-against average and .892 save percentage, while Jonathan Quick is fifth in the league with a 1.68 GAA and .941 save percentage.
Quick brings another element to his game other than just stopping the puck, according to Todd McLellan.
Hes very good at initiating the breakouts so you have to be more aware of where youre placing the puck, he said.
Could the Sharks will try and use those lively new boards to their advantage again, as they did when Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture teamed up for a goal against Nashville?
Line it up: It appears the Sharks and Kings will both be trying out some new line combinations for tonights game. For San Jose, look for Marty Havlat to play on the right side of Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe. The top line of Thornton, Pavelski and Couture remains untouched, while the third and fourth lines are the same as how they were two games ago.
Los Angeles, which has scored two goals or less in regulation in 11 of its 13 games, is also tinkering. Anze Kopitar, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams form the teams top line, while Mike Richards will be with Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner.
Penner, specifically, is a guy that the Kings would like to get going as he has just one assist in 11 games.
Mike sees the ice and makes plays, and Im hoping that generates some more opportunities for Penner and his game, to get his confidence on track on the scoring part of it, said Kings coach Terry Murray.
With as much skill as the Kings possess up front, its probably just a matter of time before they get the offense going. McLellan points out, though, that L.A. is a team that can get away with scoring slumps thanks to defensive depth and goaltending. The Kings are third in the league in goals-against per game (2.00).
When youre only giving up two a night, you can afford to struggle on offense a little bit and win some games, said McLellan. Its a very good team over there, one of the best well play, I think, during the year.
Improve the PK: The Sharks have allowed at least one power play goal in five of their last six games (14-for-20, 70 percent). The one game they didnt, however, was against Pittsburgh which oddly enough didnt have a single power play all game.
Thats dropped them to 29th in the NHL in that category (73.2 percent overall).
Patrick Marleau isnt hitting the panic button just yet, though.
Our numbers dont show it, but weve done a lot of good things, he said. We want those numbers to get better, and theres only one way to do it by doing it right and making sure we work hard. But, we dont need to take extra penalties to prove that point.
One thing the Sharks do have going for them is that they have stayed out of the box. They have been shorthanded just 41 times, the third fewest in the league.
Odds and ends: The Sharks won the regular season series last year with L.A., posting a 3-1-2 record. That includes two shootout wins. Kopitar has six points in the last five games. Joe Pavelski has 15 points in his last eight games (7g, 6a). The teams meet again on Nov. 28 in Los Angeles.