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.

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

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The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.