SAN JOSE The Los Angeles Kings, last in the NHL in goals, have led after the first period just four times in their first 34 games. One of those was on Nov. 28 at Staples Center against the Sharks, in what was one of the weakest efforts of the season for San Jose in a 2-0 loss.
The Kings have since changed coaches, but that game is still fresh in the minds of the Sharks and their head coach as the Pacific Division rivals meet tonight at HP Pavilion.
It wasnt a great game for us. We didnt have the start we wanted and dug ourselves a hole. I know they were a lot more intense and physical, and won a lot more battles, said Ryane Clowe. They wanted that game more and they were ready to start.
We know how L.A. plays, weve played them enough. We have to have a good start, and we have a couple days off after this game, so there are no excuses tonight.
Todd McLellan expects a fired up Kings group that will be playing its second game under new head coach Darryl Sutter, but thinks the Sharks should match that based on what happened the last time these teams met.
I know theyll be a motivated group with a new coach, and that coach having some ties to San Jose. Im sure theyll want to play for him, said McLellan. At the same breath, we should be matching that because of our poor effort in L.A. a couple weeks ago. We werent very good, and were outworked and out-battled for two complete periods.
Building momentum: The Sharks will be looking to build off of their most lopsided win of the season when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-2, on Wednesday night. In was their third straight win, all at home, as San Jose improved to a perfect 3-0 on its six-game homestand.
Well try and do a lot of the same things that worked well, said Joe Pavelski, who will play tonight after missing Thursdays practice with the flu. I think the simple part of our game was good. When we get our opportunities we have to be ready. Thats the biggest thing, guys had some good looks and finished on them.
When you get on rolls and start to get on a winning streak, things come naturally, it seems, said Clowe. You get those bounces around the net. We want to keep that momentum on our side. Theyve got a different look over there with a new coach who is fresh in there, so its a good opportunity to establish our game early and dictate, like weve been doing.
Although the Kings score just 2.12 goals-per game, 30th in the NHL, no one expects the score to be as lopsided as it was on Wednesday.
These are two teams that are more familiar with each other. I dont think there will be any surprises, and that prevents games from getting to 7-2 or 7-3 or whatever it might be, said McLellan.
The Kings have won back-to-back games via the shootout, including a 3-2 win over Anaheim on Thursday night in Sutters first game behind the bench. Los Angeles has a brutal streak of 13 straight games without scoring more than two goals in regulation, though.
You have ups and down, same way sometimes as we have a tough time scoring goals. You have to reestablish your game on a nightly basis, find ways to the net, said Pavelski. We dont know exactly whats going on over there. Were worried more about ourselves.
Special teams improving: The Sharks spent two days at their practice facility on Monday and Tuesday with some intense work on special teams play. The power play and penalty kill had both been floundering before Wednesdays game against Tampa Bay.
They saw some fruits from their labor with two power play goals and none allowed on the penalty kill in five Lightning chances.
That probably was the best number that we had in here, for us, said Pavelski of the 5-for-5 on the PK. Its something thats just a start, and hopefully going in the right direction. We have to build on that.
Roster update: Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer both remain on injured reserve and will not play with their respective broken hands.
Goaltender Antero Niittymaki, though, has returned from his conditioning stint in Worcester, and the Sharks now officially have three goalies on their roster.
Whats the immediate plan?
Antti Niemi tonight, Thomas Greiss backing up, and the Christmas break tomorrow, said McLellan.
Niemi will be making his 13th start in the last 14 games.
Odds and ends: This is the third game between the Sharks and Kings. San Jose won the first at HP Pavilion on Nov. 7, 4-2. They dont meet again until March 20 at Staples Center, and finish the season with a home-and-home against one another. Kings forward Mike Richards returned from an eight-game absence last night with a concussion, and scored one of the Kings two regulation goals Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski each have four-game scoring streaks, with five points apiece over that span. Jonathan Quick is expected to start for Los Angeles. He made 33 saves in shutting out the Sharks on Nov. 28. Dustin Brown has the shootout winner in each of the last two Kings wins.