The San Jose Sharks were the hottest team in the Pacific Division before the four-game set against their rivals. They are halfway through without a win after dropping a contest thanks especially to the pictured Los Angeles Kings Saturday, Dec. 28. Tuesday and Wednesday bring back-to-back games against the top two division teams in the 2014-15 NHL season standings—the second-place Vancouver Canucks and first-place Anaheim Ducks, respectively.
In other words, the Sharks have to bounce back immediately or could face yet another four-game losing streak—their third already before the midpoint of the 2014-15 NHL season and 14th that began with the Stanley Cup playoff sweep by the Chicago Blackhawks in May of 2011. There are no breaks coming after New Year’s Eve, with higher-seeded Western Conference teams in the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets looming to start January.
It was one thing for San Jose to lose in overtime in Anaheim to the two-time Pacific Division champions. It is another to lay an egg against the team that delivered the knockout punch in consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Sharks need to make sure it is the loss to the Kings is the exception in this five-game stretch, not the hard-fought overtime loss to the Ducks. The Canucks offer the best chance to stop a streak from starting as the foe on the front end of the back-to-back set, played at home and more flawed.
Vancouver was never the team their record suggested last season under condescending, harsh head coach John Tortorella. However, it will never again be the team that went to the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. This is San Jose’s best opportunity to get two points and nip a potential losing streak in the bud.
The Sharks will need to put a bad game behind them. They won the faceoff battle 29-25 and the Kings had 11 more giveaways to just two more takeaways. A dozen more hits helped to make up for that 14-possession deficit and allowed the Stanley Cup champions to hold a 29-22 edge in shots and 60-39 in attempts.
Thus, even San Jose’s 17-12 advantage in blocked shots represents a smaller percentage of attempts (28.3 vs. 30.8 percent) and smaller number per shot allowed (1.71 vs. 1.83). Teams can win games like this if they get outstanding goalie play; no goal can be put on Antti Niemi, but Jonathan Quick was better.
Several times, Los Angeles turned the puck over in its own zone and left Quick to bail the three-time Western Conference finalists out. The first one was the only time he did not: Justin Williams gave the puck to one of the best passers in NHL history, and Joe Thornton got it to Joe Pavelski in the slot for a score that was a metaphor for the team’s leadership torch—the old captain passing it indirectly rather than cleanly to the new captain, whose goal is thus more difficult and less pretty but still attained.
That lead took just 2:39 of the game to get and 11:25 to disappear when Tyler Toffoli put his own rebound past Niemi to give Jamie McBain and Trevor Lewis assists. Just past the midpoint of the game, the Kings took the lead for good on the power play when Marian Gaborik took a pass from Jeff Carter and attacked the net, with the puck squirting to an uncovered Anze Kopitar.
Kopitar got the next play going with the man-advantage early in the third period. He fed the puck to Drew Doughty, who found Jake Muzzin for a partially-screened, slap-shot insurance goal from the left-wing circle to keep the Los Angeles power play red hot with two goals in four chances.
After that, the Sharks only allowed two shots but only got nine, without any getting past Quick. Losing in most phases of the game might be dismissed if it came against a vastly superior team, on the back of a long road trip or from a third game in four nights. However, they showed they are capable of playing with the Kings and had seen plenty of rest.
This effort was not good enough, and San Jose must have better efforts to finish the calendar year to show it is ready to build toward being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. That starts at 7:00 p.m. PST Tuesday against Vancouver.