The San Jose Sharks have allowed more than two goals just once but also scored a modest 17 in their six-game winning streak coming into their Pacific Division match-up Monday, January 27. A shutout was the only possible way for the Los Angeles Kings to win after scoring just eight goals in a five-game losing streak.
The Sharks were absolutely choked out for the first two periods and there is a reason why the pictured stars of the game were its best defenders. The Kings did not manage more attack, but got the only goal with 2:04 left in the second: Jake Muzzin advanced the puck to Jeff Carter entering the offensive zone, who fed it across to Anze Kopitar for a deke that drew a failed Alex Stalock poke-check.
That one mistake ended the backup goalie's shutout streak at just seconds short of 178 minutes, establishing a new franchise record. It is of little consolation when San Jose leaves very important points on the table while chasing the 2012-13 Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks for this year's title.
In the end, this game had more good than bad but the results were all bad—zero points and two for a rival.
Fourteen of the 24 shots by San Jose came in the third period thanks to chances that could not be taken when the game was scoreless. One reason for a lack of attack early was the struggles in the faceoff circle: Los Angeles won 23 of the first 39 through two periods.
By the end of the game the Sharks drew to within 27-29, but five more giveaways (16-11) and three fewer takeaways (5-8) still resulted in a deficit of 10 possessions. Nevertheless, Los Angeles only attempted the same number of shots (55) and allowed two more (23-21) despite blocking two more (24-22).
Now the Sharks head out to face the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames on back-to-back games. The once-again Pacific Division rivals are the two worst teams in the Western Conference. After that comes a return home for four more games and then the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Finishing this four-game homestand 3-1-0 is only acceptable, not an accomplishment. Not one of those teams has been consistent considering the Kings had a five-game losing streak.
The gap to first place in the Pacific Division is currently four games. Even winning the game in hand and both of their remaining head-to-head contests in regulation—an unrealistic expectation in and of itself—the Sharks would need two more wins than the Ducks to take the crown.
In an odd way, first place is not as important as second place. San Jose needs to host the extra game to beat Los Angeles more than to beat Anaheim in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. After that it would help to have home-ice advantage in the Western Conference finals, and that is more likely by taking the Pacific Division title.
Then again, who knows whether the team that makes it out of the Central Division might not have finished the 2013-14 NHL season lower in the standings? With a win Monday night, the Kings inched closer to getting back in the race to get home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs—they now sit eight points behind.
That is why the Sharks must put this disappointment behind them and start a new winning streak. They could either make a push to win the Pacific Division or leave themselves vulnerable to losing home-ice advantage.