Even-strength play could determine series

Hedican: Kings have something that Sharks want

Even-strength play could determine series
May 14, 2013, 1:00 pm
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I’m anxious, and I know everyone in this room is anxious to get playing hockey again.
—Logan Couture

LOS ANGELES – In their four-game sweep of the Canucks, the Sharks dominated just about every facet of the game. But, if we’re going to nitpick, one area in which they may have to improve against the Kings is even strength play.

The Sharks still outscored the Canucks 8-6 in the first round series when both teams were at even strength, but, as we’ve mentioned numerous times in this space, San Jose almost certainly won’t get as many power plays as it had against Vancouver.

Seven of San Jose’s 15 goals against Vancouver came on the power play, which was 7-for-24 overall (29.2 percent).

“There’s no doubt there will be power play and penalty kill situations and their penalty kill is exceptional, so I don’t know that we’re going to get up to that 30 percent mark on the power play,” Todd McLellan said on Tuesday morning at Staples Center. “We’d love to be there, but five-on-five is where it will be decided, in my opinion.”

Joe Thornton, who had four power play points and two even-strength points against Vancouver, said: “They’re a good five-on-five team and we’ll have to be strong in that aspect. We felt like our five-on-five game against Vancouver was good, as well. … Everything will have to get better this round.”

McLellan was quick to point out that the Sharks remained strong defensively at even strength. He’d like that to continue.

“When you talk about five-on-five play, you often think of the offensive part of it, but I thought defensively we had a pretty high commitment from a lot of players that allowed us to be successful,” he said.

Patrick Marleau said: “Our five-on-five play, we can try to take that up a notch and try to get some more offense out of it, but still playing well defensively.”

The Sharks and Kings both enter Game 1 on four-game winning streaks. Los Angeles lost the first two games of its series with the Blues before reeling off four in a row.

[RELATED: Kings expect different series against Sharks]

Home ice could play a huge role, too. The Sharks and Kings were tied for the NHL lead in home points in the regular season (with Chicago) with 39, and Los Angeles is already 3-0 at home in the postseason.

That the Sharks haven’t played since Tuesday should help them match the energy aggressiveness the Kings get from their home crowd, according to Logan Couture.

“I think, or at least I hope we’re going to have a lot of energy,” Couture said. “We’ve been sitting around practicing for five or six days. I’m anxious, and I know everyone in this room is anxious to get playing hockey again.

“I think we’re going to come out with a lot of energy. We know this crowd is going to be loud, the way they always are when we play here. The rivalry between the two California teams makes it that much more electric in this building.”

Don’t expect any momentum from the series win against Vancouver to carry over one week later against the Kings.

“We can say we’d love to pick up where we left off, but it just doesn’t happen that way,” McLellan said. “Every series is different. We have a new set of challenges with this group. I really believe we have to reestablish our game completely. … And, so do they. We’re not the St. Louis Blues.”

* * *

Early indications are that forward Bracken Kearns will skate on the fourth line in the spot vacated by Adam Burish (right hand injury). Kearns and Tim Kennedy took shifts in that spot with Scott Gomez and James Sheppard, but Kearns came off of the ice well before Kennedy. Kearns had 46 points (21g, 25a) in 66 games with Worcester (AHL) this season, and was scoreless in one game with the Sharks.

Jason Demers (sprained left ankle) and Marty Havlat (lower body) both skated with the team, but Havlat was ruled out by McLellan. When asked if Havlat could return at some point during the series, the head coach simply said, “We hope so.”

Demers, even if he is ready, would probably remain out after Scott Hannan’s effective first round.

The Sharks forward lines and defense pairs are unchanged, other than the fourth line:

Raffi Torres – Logan Couture – Patrick Marleau
TJ Galiardi – Joe Thornton – Brent Burns
Andrew Desjardins – Joe Pavelski – Tommy Wingels
James Sheppard – Scott Gomez – Bracken Kearns/Tim Kennedy

Matt Irwin – Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Scott Hannan – Brad Stuart