Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

LOS ANGELES Its been a long, not particularly productive trudge through the last two months of the season.

A win tonight in Los Angeles, though, would allow the San Jose Sharks (41-29-10, 92 points) to put that stretch in the rear view mirror. The team can secure a playoff spot with a victory over the Kings (40-27-13, 93 points) when they square off at Staples Center in the first of a home-and-home that concludes on Saturday night at HP Pavilion.

Dan Boyle said: This one allows us to get in the playoffs. We win this one tonight, and if my math is correct, were in. You play 80 games all year and it comes down to one, which is all were concentrating on.

The Sharks are in eighth place in the Western Conference, three points ahead of ninth place Dallas. The Stars visit the Nashville Predators tonight at 5:00 p.m. PST, and should they lose in regulation, they'll be eliminated. The Sharks would only need one point to mathematically eliminate Colorado (88 points), too, and secure their own spot. Colorado hosts Columbus at 6:00 p.m. PST.

RELATED: NHL standings

Todd McLellan would rather his club just concentrate on what it has to do, though, than scoreboard watch.

As a group, we have to assume that we need to take care of our own business, and that the two teams trailing us are going to win both of their games and Phoenix (in seventh place with 93 points) is going to sweep.

What it comes down to is our effort and our competition level, and our results against the Kings. We have an opportunity in front of us we can control as far as effort and everything else, and we need to take advantage of it.

Lineup unchanged: The Sharks are expected to ice the same lineup as they did in their two straight wins over the Dallas Stars. That means Douglas Murray will sit for the fourth straight game, despite appearing to be recovered from an undisclosed lower body injury.

Down the stretch, weve discussed finding a lineup thats winning and playing well, weve always kept it that way regardless of whos been in or out, McLellan said. Murray is a valuable person and very important to our team, not only today but moving forward. If hes healthy we would consider using him, but again, Ill stress that we like what weve seen from the six guys playing.

The Kings are still without winger Jeff Carter, who has an ankle injury and could miss Saturdays game, as well.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will make his 20th straight start, opposing Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick.

Niemi made his biggest save of the season in Tuesday nights 5-2 win over Dallas, stopping Jamie Benn on a breakaway in the third period with the Sharks nursing a 3-2 lead.

When Nemo plays like that, it sure covers a lot of different areas and different faults that guys have, Joe Thornton said.

In four games against the Sharks this season, Quick is 2-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.

Regarding the Kings: Los Angeles season has been every bit a challenge as San Joses has. The Kings fired coach Terry Murray in December and replaced him with Darryl Sutter, and will also be trying to book their ticket to the postseason tonight.

The quotes coming from their players are predictably similar to what the Sharks are saying.

Weve got to take care of our business. Were going for that third seed, and thats our goal right now, leading scorer Anze Kopitar said on Wednesday. In order to get there we probably have to win two more, or one if we win tonight. Thats what were focusing on, and thats what were going after.

The Kings need just one point over these next two games to clinch a playoff spot.

Sutter said: I dont look at it as one point. I look at it as, its tough to win in this league. You better be prepared to leave it out there to try and win. What really has changed for us? Nothing. Either you finish in the top eight, or you dont.

LA struggles: The Sharks have lost both games here at Staples Center this year by a combined score of 7-2. That includes a 5-2 defeat less than three weeks ago, in which the Sharks were playing their second game in as many nights.

Whats been the problem?

Wed like to get more shots. They dont allow too many shots, said Thornton, whose club had just 22 on March 20. Wed like to get some more shots and more good chances. I dont think we had too many good chances last time we were in here. Theyre a good team, and I expect a good match tonight.

McLellan said: Both games in this building we havent played well. The first game Nov. 28, a 2-0 Sharks loss we were lethargic for two periods and then came out and played well in the third, but it was too little, too late. The last time in here, a shorthanded goal got us behind the eight ball. We did play back-to-back, and I thought they had more jump and more energy than our group did. We dont have that excuse tonight.

The Kings are 12-4-1 in their last 17 games.

Theyve become a better team the last couple years, and theyve had their share of ups-and-downs this year with the new coach, and trades and stuff, Boyle said. Theyre one win away from where they want to be, as well. Just a hard working team, and very good goaltending.
Odds and ends: Jonathan Quicks 10 shutouts leads the NHL. Simon Gagne and Scott Parse remain out for Los Angeles. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are tied for the Sharks team lead in goals with 31. Anze Kopitars 25 goals and 48 assists are both team-highs for the Kings. Joe Thorntons 58 assists tie him for third in the NHL.

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

SAN JOSE – Just in case there was any question as to the grisly nature of Logan Couture’s mouth injury, the Sharks forward shared a picture on his personal Instagram account on Monday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, proceed with caution.

The photo was taken the night of his injury on March 25 in Nashville, showing several top teeth missing in a mouth that can accurately be described as a bloody mess, after he was hit with a defected puck while standing in front of the net in a game against the Predators.

Couture revealed on Tuesday in a conference call that there was more to his injury that just damaged teeth. He also has some facial fractures, including one above his upper lip that extends to his nasal area, and another that is under the bottom row of his teeth.

The one that’s higher in his face is still painful. 

“Still struggle to eat and sleep. … It’s not a comfortable state to be in,” said Couture, who missed the final seven games of the regular season before returning for the six-game first round series loss to Edmonton.

As for the next step, Couture has yet to sit down with his dentist, although further work is on the horizon.

“There’s going to be some implants to get the teeth fixed,” he said. “Hopefully get it done in the next few weeks, and then I’ll head back to Canada.”

Couture doesn’t yet know how many teeth need to be replaced.

“All depends on how the teeth respond,” he said.

* * *

Joe Thornton had successful surgery on his left knee on Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned, and according to a team statement released later on Tuesday he is expected to "make a complete recovery and be ready for the start of the 2017-18 season." 

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The team declined to give any details about the surgery in its statement, including who performed it and where it was done. 

Thornton played four playoff games against Edmonton despite damaged knee ligaments, head coach Pete DeBoer revealed on Monday, when he said Thornton was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” after getting hurt in Vancouver on April 2.

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

SAN JOSE – There was an NHL coaching casualty on Monday on a team that flamed out in the first round.

No, it wasn’t in San Jose. It was in Chicago, as the Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was in charge of their penalty kill. Chicago, swept by Nashville despite finishing atop the Western Conference, finished 24th on the PK in the regular season.

When it comes to the Sharks’ coaching staff, there’s no doubt that head coach Pete DeBoer will return, but it’s fair to wonder if assistant coach Steve Spott is feeling a little heat right now. The Sharks’ power play, a primary focus of Spott’s, finished just 25th in the NHL this season (16.7 percent) after it was third in the league in 2015-16 (22.5 percent).

When asked if the full Sharks’ coaching staff would return next season, general manager Doug Wilson didn’t offer anything definitive.

“I haven’t sat down with them yet. I think they did an outstanding job,” Wilson said. “You go through the last 12 months with a compressed schedule, very few practices, integrating players. I’m very pleased with their performance.

“I think there are things that they want to do better. We all have to take a look back and be honest, and say since we’re not playing right now, what can we do better? I think that transparency and honesty is a really good part of this group. We’ll do that in the next week.”

And what was Wilson’s perspective of the power play?

“It’s got to be better. [The coaches] will tell you. …  It’s not [always] the percentage or the number, it’s when you score goals. We certainly have the talent, and historically we’ve done very well,” Wilson said.

There was no part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season and in the playoffs that was more baffling and frustrating than its performance with a man advantage. Last season’s success seemed to bleed into October as the Sharks were running at a 24.1 percent rate through the first month of the 2016-17 season, but after November 1 and through the end of the season, the power play was a miserable 15.7 percent (34-for-217).

In the playoffs the Sharks were a more respectable 5-for-28, but even DeBoer called that misleading as four of those came in the 7-0 blowout in Game 4. They were 1-for-18 the rest of the series.

DeBoer, as the head coach, took responsibility for that part of the Sharks’ game when asked how much the miserable power play grinded on Spott.

“It grinds on all of us,” he said. “This isn’t about Steve. The power play is not about Steve. The power play is about our whole staff. We sit on all those situations as a group, and I’m the ultimate guy responsible for all those things. 

“I think it ground on all of us. It didn’t give us momentum, it didn’t create momentum even when it wasn’t scoring. That’s what you want your power play to do, is at least give you some momentum that you’re feeling good coming out of it. We didn’t get that, so that’s something that’s right at the top of our list.”

One baffling aspect of the power play is that the coaching staff hardly ever tried anything different with its units unless it was forced into it due to injury. Patrick Marleau was bumped from the top unit for a brief stretch in the middle of the season, but it didn’t last very long.

The second unit generated just seven goals in the 82-game season, and none after Feb. 2 other than rookie Danny O’Regan’s score in the final game when several Sharks regulars were resting.

One argument regarding the top unit is that it simply became too predictable. Joe Thornton could be counted on to pass, Brent Burns was going to shoot any chance he got, and Joe Pavelski would be hovering somewhere around the slot looking for a deflection.

Pavelski said: “There were times where maybe we rushed it, forced a few things. Definitely all year it could have been a little better, a little more of our identity and what it has been in the past. So, that’s on us as players.”

DeBoer said: “I think we got a little stagnant. I don’t think we had as much motion as we usually have and as much movement, and that comes with some confidence. You lose confidence, you tend to stand still. That’s something that we’ve got to get back.”