The Sharks had a nice playoff run last season. They swept the Canucks before facing the Los Angeles Kings without home ice advantage. They never lost a game at
HP Pav The SAP Center, and they brought LA to the brink in Game 7. It’s hard to say whether they would have made it past the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals (hell, nobody got past the Blackhawks), but one thing is certain: San Jose and Los Angeles were as evenly matched as it gets, and Wednesday night’s battle at the Staples Center demonstrated more of the same.
Yet again, the Kings proved to be too much, taking a 4-3 victory over the Sharks in overtime. San Jose stole a point by getting it past regulation and finished my fake SAP Open road trip 3-1-1, which is pretty fantastic. But the Kings didn’t actually lead until they won, and San Jose’s inability to put away Los Angeles for good was extremely troubling.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic put the Sharks up early by sneaking into the open ice unaccounted before taking a pass from Logan Couture and snapping it past Jonathan Quick. But Drew Doughty answered for the Kings just two minutes later to initiate the roller coaster.
Tommy Wingels hit Joe Pavelski with a perfect cross crease pass to make it 2-1 near the end of the first, but Jarret Stoll tipped in a Slava Voynov slap shot early in the second to tie it again. Then it was Couture with the Sharks only power play goal of the night to make it three, but the Kings answered with a man-advantage goal of their own (on a too many men penalty, the Sharks’ second of the night) from Justin Williams to knot the score up one final time.
Couture had a chance to end the game in regulation. After taking a nasty board from Daniel Carcillo, his first shift on the power play ended with a wrist shot that rang off of the post. Tomas Hertl had a nice chance of his own on the same power play, shooting a turnaround backhander that Quick stopped. But they failed to score, and defensive breakdowns bit them hard in overtime.
Niemi saved Brad Stuart’s bacon twice in the first minute, and a turnover led to a breakaway chance and a hooking penalty on Justin Braun. San Jose almost killed the entire penalty (they hadn’t allowed a power play goal all road trip long) before Anze Kopitar ripped a point shot into the net to split the Bay Area-LA battle 1-1.
Off the Post
— San Jose hasn’t won a game at the Staples Center since April 5th. Home ice advantage will be pretty important this year.
— The Sharks have been incredible this month, but they aren’t without their faults. They really miss Raffi Torres, and Mike Brown’s presence just isn’t enough to make an impact. The Kings played loose and rough on some of San Jose’s most important players (Couture, Hertl and Niemi all took big hits tonight) without any consequences. I know it’s the same tired line about the Sharks, but they need to make teams pay for playing physical hockey against them.
— As deep as the Sharks are, they could always use reinforcements. Martin Havlat played his first game of the 2013-14 season tonight, filling the void San Jose has been dealing with while Matt Nieto is out with a hand injury. Or filling the void they’ve been dealing with while Martin Havlat was out. However you want to slice it. He definitely brings yet another scoring element, but I’ve gotten used to his absence at this point.
— Vlasic is making a good case to play for Team Canada in Sochi. Through 13 games he has three goals, seven assists and he’s a ridiculous +11 (good for first in the NHL). Maybe he should chill out a little bit
/runs down street chanting U-S-A with an American flag tied around neck
— There’s a chance all three California teams could be in the postseason this year. It’s early (I can’t wait until I can stop prefacing my writing with that qualification), but San Jose and Anaheim are sitting atop the Pacific Division with 22 and 20 points respectively. The Kings are a little behind: tied for fourth with Phoenix with 18, but the way they play, it’s hard to see them missing out.
— 22 points is about as good of a month as a hockey team can expect, and San Jose faced their fair share of adversity in the process. The losses of Dan Boyle and Brent Burns coupled with a long road trip to close October would have been a perfect good excuse for some stumbles. Even though the team went through a scoring lull, they still managed to win games. This team should make noise when they’re fully healthy.