Both teams had received stern words prior to last night’s game. “I’m concerned about our drive right now, the life that we bring to the rink and to the games,” Todd McLellan said after San Jose’s 5-3 loss to New Jersey on Monday. “The train has got to be a work train, not the Stanley Cup train. The Stanley Cup train was last year, and some guys just have to get off that train,” Darryl Sutter said on Tuesday. The Sharks, playing at home, were able to transfer their coach’s challenge into a more productive effort, and dictated the pace of a first period that ended with the Kings fortunate to be down by only one goal. Relying on superb work by Jonathan Quick and some strong defensive disruptions on odd-numbered breaks, Los Angeles put itself in position to tie the score in the second period – which it did – though continued penalty killing deficiencies deflated the team as San Jose used two decisive power play goals to claim a 4-2 victory on Wednesday night. It’s a bit easier for the Sharks to capitalize on their coach’s directive, given the environment at the SAP Center and the nature of the rivalry, which has been dominated by home teams in a 15-2-1 performance over the last 18 games. But there was a more palpable emotion and purpose from the home team, especially right out of the starting gates
There was a significant turning point with the Kings trailing 2-1 while on a third period power play. With an opportunity to score a big goal to tie up an important game, Drew Doughty was a touch casual while waiting for the puck to approach him along the boards. Logan Couture raced in with a head of steam, turning what should have been a fairly normal Kings retrieval into a 50/50 battle. Doughty high-sticked Couture while fighting for the puck, sending him to the box and negating the power play. The Sharks ultimately scored on the shortened man advantage. The Kings have been scored on each of the last three times Doughty has been in the penalty box. There’s a lot of poor luck associated with that note, but with Los Angeles’ road penalty killing where it is – the Kings now rank 28th in the league with a 72.3% road penalty killing rate and have killed 17 of 27 power plays overall in January – it’s imperative that he minimize the amount of time he spends in the box, given his role on the PK and the limited options on the right side.
It’s a trend that you’d rather avoid, but Jonathan Quick and the fourth line were Los Angeles’ best assets in the loss. It’s a good sign that Quick has rounded back into form with an outstanding three games in a row after the club’s save percentage had reached a seasonal nadir at .909, though it’s Quick, a world class goalie, so that percentage was bound to rise. Kyle Clifford has been a valuable role player who has contributed quality minutes as of late, and Jordan Nolan has also provided some good jump since being inserted back into the lineup. But the Kings, when they return from the All-Star Break, will be needing to rely on more frequent, team-wide efforts in which all four lines are contributing, as articulated by Robyn Regehr last night. “I think we can all just do a better job,” Regehr said, “whether it’s the guys who have to be physical are throwing more checks and being harder to play against, whether it’s the skill guys who need to hang on to pucks and take pucks to the net and score big goals, or the penalty kill that has to kill a big penalty or two, a power play – it’s all part of the game, and I think we can improve in all those areas.”