SAN JOSE – Less than 20 seconds into the first period, the Los Angeles Kings looked like they were about to take the lead in Game 1.
Jeff Carter, the Kings’ second-leading goal scorer in the regular season, got a step behind the Sharks’ defense along the wall and cut to the net alone. His low shot was batted away by Antti Niemi, and the Sharks subsequently took over the game.
The defense pair of Brad Stuart and Justin Braun got a good look at the play, which was partly the result of Stuart breaking his stick. After that chance, though, the Carter line with Mike Richards and Jordan Nolan was rendered generally ineffective before it was split up halfway through regulation, while Braun and Stuart each finished with a +2 rating matched up against them and others for most of the night.
“Thankfully Nemo bailed us out, and we got going after that,” Braun said. “Little bit of nerves at the start and reading things, but after that I think we settled in and did a pretty good job.”
That pair will likely see more of the Carter line in Sunday’s Game 2, as the Sharks will stick with what worked to well in the series opener.
[In the Crease: Sharks look to take commanding series lead]
Being at home, Stuart and Braun already know their primary assignment, and that could help their mental preparation.
“It’s important as an individual to have an objective, and if you know you’re playing against a certain player or a certain line, you can prepare for that,” Stuart said.
Braun said: “It’s good, you know who you’re going against and you know your challenge that night. You kind of have an idea of what those guys can do, what kind of a speed and what their tendencies are. It’s good to have that familiarity.”
The Sharks have tinkered with their defense pairs for much of the second half of the season, eventually settling on Braun and Stuart, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers, and Scott Hannan and Dan Boyle for Game 1.
Vlasic and Demers did an outstanding job against the Anze Kopitar line on Thursday, but Stuart and Braun were just as effective against their opposition, whether it was Carter’s line early in the game, or one of many shuffled up lines later.
“People are well aware that we've shuffled our pairs around throughout the year and we're still prepared to do it, but they're a pair that's been able to play very well defensively, good penalty kill,” Todd McLellan said. “I think they read off each other well. All the things that coaches say about partners when it's going well, and they have to keep that up."