Programming note: Coverage of Game 3 between the Sharks and Kings starts Tuesday night at 6:30 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live. Bookmark this page for comprehensive coverage of the series.
SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks keep saying their series with the Los Angeles Kings won’t end up this way, that anyone who thinks so is clearly and unalterably nuts. Then they go out onto the rink and lie about it, and then come back and lie some more.
On such duplicitous skills are series won. Keep saying the games you see won’t be the games you see, and eventually maybe even your opponent will stop trusting you.
San Jose boatraced the Kings Sunday, 7-2, making Thursday’s 6-3 win a taut affair by comparison. The Sharks were quicker and bigger from top to bottom, and essentially made a hash of everything L.A. coach Darryl Sutter thought could work. In other words, the Sharks have more goals after two games in this series than they did in the entirety of their second-round loss to the Kings last year, and rendered Kings goalie Jonathan Quick a javelin catcher.
Which is exactly what they swear cannot continue, the fibbing fibbers.
“We’ve had a couple of great nights offensively, but more games like this . . . uhh, no,” said defenseman Justin Braun, who scored what turned into the winning goal as part of a ten-minute flurry in the second period that negated a 2-0 Kings lead. “We obviously can’t be disappointed with the goals we’ve scored, but they’re a good team and the games aren’t all going to be like this.”
Braun is probably correct, because this is not the hockey of the 1980s, but there is no available evidence based on the first two games to back up his claim.
And not just his claim, mind you, but also the claim of Mike Brown, who scored the first goal and was named the game’s first star for the first time in his entire life; of Raffi Torres, who scored the second goal and heard his name being chanted throughout the duration of the evening; of Joe Thornton, who never doesn’t say that, and of coach Todd McLellan, who has finally been given, developed and learned to trust a four-line team.
“The scores are irrelevant,” he said with a snippy tone in his voice as if to prevent anyone from suckering him into a “Did you know the Kings were this outmanned before the series?” kind of questioning. “These could be two three-overtime wins and they would count exactly the same. You don’t get extra points for scoring.”
No, but you set an overwhelming tone that seeps into both your own dressing room and that of the other team as well. Indeed, if not for the fact that the Kings won a Cup two years ago and smothered the Sharks offensively last year, the assumption that this series is over would be far closer to being actually provable.
First, the Sharks’ fourth line of Brown, Torres and Andrew Desjardins has overwhelmed the Kings’ mixed-and-matched offerings (Sutter played only 11 forwards, which meant most of his lines were fluid) with both their speed and persistence.
Second, the third line which was originally James Sheppard between Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels, got dramatically more dynamic when Joe Pavelski was moved to third-line center for Sheppard and Wingels, while Nieto moved to right wing on the Logan Couture line. This seemingly subtle but pointed choice was done to exacerbate the Kings’ speed shortcomings there, and eventually not only worked but spread to the top two lines as well. By game’s end, the Kings didn’t even have the prickliness to engage in any tone-setting for Game 3, so badly was Game 2 lost.
And third, Quick, who was Olympic-level brilliant in the first period, was overwhelmed in the second and third, as he was in the first two periods Thursday. He has now allowed 12 goals on 68 shots (.an 823 percentage) and 99:44 (a goals against average of nearly 7.20), ridiculous numbers for the league’s best regular season defense.
And the fault is not all Quick’s, not by a long shot. The Kings as a team are playing both slower and smaller than a year ago, and the Sharks are commensurately faster and bigger. They forechecked with greater purpose and energy than the Kings’ defense could cope, and the longer the game ran, the more profound the imbalance became.
In short, the best series as pre-advertised has been the most lopsided one, and there is no close second. Unless the Kings have a reserve we have not seen, or the Sharks give way to the impulse to think they have herded the cattle merely by opening the corral gate, this series looks like it will prove everyone a great big liar, player and pundit alike.
Either that, or it will expose us all as less than the sum of our collective judgments. If you have to pick one, that’s probably it. But if the Sharks keep saying this series will be a close defensive one and then keep turning out results like these, their veracity can be rightly be questioned.