The personnel comparison outlined as part of the preview of their first contest of the 2013-14 NHL season has if anything become more weighted toward the Kings. The Pacific Division standings show the results have been weighted toward the Sharks.
Antti Niemi is no longer playing an other-worldly game and both teams now have proven backups. Brent Burns and Dan Boyle have returned but the Sharks are now missing Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Scott Hannan. Raffi Torres and Adam Burish are still out and Martin Havlat is injured again.
Despite all of this, they are in a six-game winning streak that is half on the road, half at home and half against teams in position to make the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and half that are not. However, only the Tampa Bay Lightning is a top-10 NHL team—just barely. Not one of the teams is up to the level of the elite teams of the Western Conference like San Jose.
Los Angeles has a much-cleaner injury report but more anemic offense in a five-game losing streak, with eight goals over the streak. In fact, the team has only scored three or more goals four times in the 17 games since the teams last played (excluding the one shootout "goal" listed in the final score) in mid-December.
Still, the Sharks know they are facing the team that last won the Stanley Cup in a full season. The Kings barely made the playoffs that year, but have the pieces and now have the experience.
That is why this is the toughest game on the schedule until February 1, when the current Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks come to town. Besides those two teams, San Jose faces six opponents that would not qualify for even a wild-card berth in the Western Conference leading up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The two road games in that stretch are against the two worst teams on the pre-break docket.
That would seem to diminish urgency for the Sharks, but it could oddly help it. They are still nine points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead, but it is a reachable goal with two games in hand and 30 to go overall. Taking care of the Kings while they are down could pave the way to reducing the margin to the number of games the two teams have left (two) in the 2013-14 NHL season before the Sochi Olympics.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles knows it can do what it has before—turn it on when it matters. It is not the wisest thing to do and not many teams that lose six games in a season go on to win a Stanley Cup, but there were two stretches of dropping six of seven that season.
At the same time, the Kings are six points up on the Phoenix Coyotes to be among the eight teams to make the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in the Western Conference. They are also 10 points behind the Sharks despite one more game played for second place in the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage in the first round.
That lead is out of reach. If San Jose continues winning at the pace thus far in the 2013-14 NHL season, Los Angeles would only be able to leave six of 58 points on the table—an .897 point percentage.
The Kings know they will turn it around in time to make the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. They also know they will have to play more road games than home games. This game will not change that, but could determine whether the Sharks can get home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference.
That urgency might counter the minimal personnel disadvantages, especially since the results thus far in the 2013-14 NHL season tend to indicate Los Angeles does not actually have the advantage. However, there is another principle that has to be dealt with.
It is a basic principle of science that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. Without friction or gravity as counter forces, the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLVIII would travel through space for eternity.
The single-biggest counter force in any sport is competitiveness. Teams that win for a long time may lose that edge and often have breaks going their way that are bound to balance out. Teams that lose for a long time become more desperate to turn it around and might stop having bad breaks, though what San Jose coach Todd McLellan likes to call "puck luck" tends to follow results rather than precede them.
Thus the Kings have more urgency than the Sharks, and the more urgent team is a better bet than the one playing better. However, that one thing does not compensate for the three pictured advantages.
The San Jose Sharks have a 19-2-3 record at home in the 2014-14 NHL season and are the best home team since the end of the latest lockout. They have not lost at home in this series since March 20, 2012, including the 2013 Western Conference semifinals.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings are 13-11-3 on the road. While a respectable two points over .500 because of overtime and shootout losses, that still means the host team walks away with a win over half the time.
If the San Jose Sharks did not have enough reason to dislike the Los Angeles Kings, more was given the last time the two teams played.
Tomas Hertl was injured by a questionable knee-on-knee collision with Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown in the last meeting between the teams. The Calder Trophy candidate lost that campaign when he was put on the shelf for more than two months, and he might not return until very late in the 2013-14 NHL season.
Joe Pavelski is red-hot. He has seven goals and three assists in a five-game point streak, but this is no blip—he has 19 goals in his last 22 games.
The Los Angeles Kings will find a way to contain him (no more than one point), but will have to put so much energy into that task they will be unable to match the scoring from the rest of the San Jose Sharks.