Niemi, Couture continue to struggle in 4-1 loss to Kings

Highlights: Sharks lose Hertl and game in Los Angeles

Niemi, Couture continue to struggle in 4-1 loss to Kings
December 19, 2013, 11:30 pm
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In his eighth straight game without a goal, Logan Couture finished with three shots, but had another six that missed the net entirely. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

LOS ANGELES – There are certain things that can’t happen if you’re going to beat one of the best teams in the NHL, especially when that team is the Los Angeles Kings, who allow the fewest goals in the league and are currently playing as well as any NHL club.

First, your goaltender can’t allow any “he would like to have that one back” type of goals. Secondly, your top scorers have to take advantage of the rare opportunities they are given to capitalize.

The Sharks failed at both on Thursday in Los Angeles, and the result was a 4-1 win for the Kings, who are now four points ahead of San Jose in the Pacific Division.

After an even first period, the Kings lit the lamp twice in the second. A flutter shot from Alec Martinez beat Antti Niemi at 5:26, on a puck that may have been deflected, but that Niemi probably should have stopped anyway. The second, a Tyler Toffoli wrister about six minutes later, should have been turned aside by the goaltender, who is now just 9-6-5 in his last 20 starts.

“I felt good, but it’s still four goals, and especially those straight shots I should be able to stop,” Niemi said.

When asked specifically about Niemi’s play, Todd McLellan lumped him in with several others that went unnamed.

“I think Nemo is like some others on our team, some go-to guys that have to step up and bring their A-game a little bit more,” McLellan said. “[Niemi] knows that, we know that, his teammates know it. But, we’re talking about one individual that wears the pads. There are some others that didn’t have a very good night tonight as well. The focus can’t just go on him.”

Who could he be referring to?

Start with Logan Couture, whose struggles continued. In his eighth straight game without a goal, the center finished with three shots, but had another six that missed the net entirely. That includes a first period chance on the power play, when he took a pass from Joe Pavelski on an odd-man rush but hit the glass behind Kings goalie Martin Jones about four minutes into the game.

Pavelski’s chance late in the second period with the Sharks down 2-0 was more forgivable, as a puck off of the end boards jumped over his stick with Jones out of position. As play continued, Tommy Wingels picked up the loose disc and nearly scored on a wraparound, but Jones covered it up with his glove after Wingels’ attempt off of his pad nearly crept across the line while the game was still within reach for San Jose.

The power play also seemed to get worse as the game went along. It was unable to capitalize on three minutes at the start of the second with Brown off for kneeing Tomas Hertl, and finished 0-for-4 in nine total minutes of time with a man advantage.

Overall, the power play is just 6-for-42 in the last 12 road games (14.2 percent).

“Obviously, we could have been better on the power play early on,” Pavelski said. “We had chances to get right back in the game, we never took advantage.”

“Two of our best opportunities came on the first couple power plays and we didn’t even hit the net, Tomas Hertl and Logan,” McLellan said. “When you play against this team, you don’t get that many chances so you’ve at least got to make the goaltender work. And we didn’t do that.”

When Jeff Carter made it 3-0 early in the third after a neutral zone turnover led to a rush the other way, the game was essentially over.

“They didn’t need much to get their first two and you can’t play catch-up hockey,” McLellan said. “One maybe, two possibly, three not a chance against this team.”