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.

NHL Gameday: Sharks go for fifth straight win in only visit to Colorado

NHL Gameday: Sharks go for fifth straight win in only visit to Colorado

Programming note – Sharks-Avalanche coverage starts today at 6:00 p.m. on NBCSN

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 29-16-2, 60 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Avalanche: 13-29-2, 28 points, 7th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Tonight’s game is the second of a home-and-home for the Sharks and Avalanche, after San Jose’s 3-2 win in overtime at SAP Center on Saturday, and the final game of the season series. David Schlemko got the deciding score 1:18 into the extra frame, as the Sharks improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight against Colorado.

The Sharks have won four straight, while Colorado, just 2-14-1 in its last 17, has lost five in a row. The Avs have not won in regulation since Dec. 11 at Toronto.

***Colorado will reportedly give rookie Spencer Martin his second straight start after he made 27 saves in his NHL debut against the Sharks on Saturday. 

Martin Jones is tied for third in the NHL with 24 wins, and is 5-1-0 in his last six starts.

***Four of the Sharks’ last six games have been decided by one goal, including three in a row. San Jose is 16-10-2 in one-goal games – the second most one-goal wins in the league, and the most one-goal losses in regulation.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Kevin Labanc. The Sharks rookie has hit a bit of a wall since bursting onto the scene, going without a goal for the last 10 games. Coach Pete DeBoer said recently that he had a talk with the rookie about maintaining a high level of play, and Labanc has been more noticeable in his last two games, recording an assist in each. The 21-year-old has 14 points (7g, 7a) in 34 games this season.

Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon. No forward was more effective for Colorado on Saturday against the Sharks than MacKinnon, their lone All-Star, who recorded a game-high seven shots and set up the tying goal in the third period. The first pick in the 2013 draft has 10 points (7g, 3a) in 10 career games when opposing San Jose, and is Colorado’s leading scorer with 32 points (11g, 21a).

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Tommy Wingels – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones 
Aaron Dell

Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen – Nathan Mackinnon – Mikhail Grigorenko
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Matt Nieto
Blake Comeau – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Andreas Martinsen – John Mitchell – Joe Colborne

Francois Beauchemin – Cody Goloubef
Fedor Tyutin – Nikita Zadorov
Patrick Wiercioch – Eric Gelinas

Spencer Martin (starter)
Calvin Pickard

INJURIES

Sharks: Micheal Haley (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Avalanche: Tyson Barrie (lower body) and Rene Bourque (lower body) are day-to-day. Semyon Varlamov (groin) and Erik Johnson (broken fibula) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I felt we did a pretty good job in our end, [but] we probably played there a little too much. We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to coming out of our end or through the neutral zone. There’s going to be games like that and it’s good to find a way to win.” – David Schlemko, after Saturday’s win

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

SAN JOSE – It took overtime for the Sharks to surpass the worst team in the NHL, but the points are valuable any way they come in the second half. Here are our three takeaways from the 3-2 victory on Saturday night…

1 – Top guys struggle, but depth comes through

It wasn’t a very good night for the captain’s line, which was particularly sloppy on Colorado’s tying goal in the third period. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic weren’t much better, as the former was caught out of position a couple times, and the latter was tagged with six giveaways.

But those guys have been playing the bulk of the minutes lately, so they’re allowed to have an off night. At least, that’s how Pete DeBoer saw it.

“We've ridden our big guys pretty hard,” DeBoer said. “They played some tough minutes with some of the opponents we played this week, in L.A. and on and on. Tonight's a night you're looking for your depth guys to step up and give you some energy, and I thought we got that."

The Sharks’ fourth line was probably its best from start to finish, including Melker Karlsson’s goal, from Ryan Carpenter.

“[Tomas] Hertl's missed 30 games, so we needed somebody to come in and help us out in that area, and he's done that,” DeBoer said of Carpenter.

2 – Making it too easy on Martin

Spencer Martin was making his NHL debut in difficult circumstances, playing in front of what has been an incredibly loose team in its own end against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. But, the Sharks made it easy on him most of the night.

Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had a tremendous game, told the Denver Post that he thought Colorado was the better team.

“Tonight, we outplayed them,” he said. “We outplayed the team that went to the (Stanley Cup) Finals last year, and there were some bright spots for us. We have to climb out of this hole and have a good last 30, 40 games here and go into next season feeling pretty good about ourselves.”

They’ll get another chance against the Sharks on Monday at Pepsi Center as the teams conclude their two-game season series. San Jose will try and give the Colorado goalie, whoever it is, a more difficult time.

“When we’re on our game, we’re making it tough with grind time and traffic at the net, some chances,” Joe Pavelski said. “Tonight we didn’t have as many as we could have had. We’ll try to find a little bit more for next game.”

Schlemko said: “We just didn’t have as much grind time in the o-zone as we usually do. If you’re not playing in their end you’re usually playing in your end.”

3 – Ward gets another on the power play

Joel Ward’s resurgence continues, as the forward again found a way to contribute on the scoresheet. His first period power play goal was one of the easier scores he’ll have, on a nice setup by Joe Thornton.

“[Thornton] had it behind the net and came around the side, and sent it to me on the far side, so it went in,” Ward said.

The 36-year-old Ward has nine points (3g, 6a) in his last 13 games. To put that in perspective, the last time he was a healthy scratch on Dec. 20, he had just nine points in 31 games on the season.