Before their veritable offensive explosion Thursday night, March 14, the San Jose Sharks had gone 20 full games without scoring four goals. They could have picked no better time to end that slump than against their in-state Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings, especially since every goal was needed.
This was only San Jose's third non-shootout win since the last time four goals were scored—the fifth game of the season. The regulation win creates a virtual three-way tie for fifth in the Western Conference standings with both Los Angeles and the Minnesota Wild, both of whom hold the edge in the NHL tiebreak of regulation/overtime wins.
A win Saturday in Southern California could help the Sharks reach fourth in the standings. That minimum home ice seed must be the goal of this team that plays differently on the road than at home. But the Kings are also one of those teams, making winning in their throne room (as champions, their name fits as true monarchs of the NHL) that much more difficult.
The game did not start out looking like one the struggling home team could win. The Kings registered the first six shots on goal and nine of the first 10. But after the first stoppage of play following the Sharks killing a Patrick Marleau tripping penalty, they found their legs. Brent Burns cleaned up a bouncing puck from all alone in the slot to give the home team a lead. Logan Couture and Marleau got the assists.
After being out-shot 16-6 in the first period, San Jose turned it on. Andrew Desjardins laid a heavy hit behind the net and Jake Muzzin responded instantly with a fight. This got him the instigator and another penalty for doing so with a mask, and Los Angeles was down a defenseman for 19 minutes as well as a man for four.
San Jose's power play showed more signs its anemia may be a thing of the past. It scored a goal during each half of the double-minor penalty that occurred about six minutes into the second period.
The first even involved the second power play unit that had just two goals coming into the contest. The last was scored by Matt Irwin, who fired this one off the shoulder of Jonathan Quick as soon as he got it from Ryane Clowe; Scott Gomez got the other assist.
The next goal came with the unit doing all the scoring for the Sharks. Passing the puck around the point, Dan Boyle moved it to Logan Couture, who moved it to Joe Thornton headed toward the slot. The current captain doubled the puck back with a soft drop pass that the future captain got to just in front of the defense and ripped through traffic, sending Quick to the sidelines.
A Justin Braun hooking penalty 53 seconds later would give the Kings an opening. Captain Dustin Brown needed just 21 seconds to put his team back in the game, but there would be no more scoring until the final period.
That moment came just 27 seconds in, after Brent Burns stripped the puck at the edge of the attacking zone and skated in two-on-none. Couture buried his low slot pass in the open cage and the Sharks looked like they had this one in the bag.
The Kings showed why they are Stanley Cup champions, and Brown showed why he wears the "C" on his sweater. Inside the final eight minutes, Brown's line put on sustained pressure that resulted in a shot that trickled through Antti Niemi and off the post. Seconds later, Brown circled into the slot with the puck and put one through that was never seen.
The Sharks tightened up noticeably from that point, and the Kings pounced. Eventually, checking forward Dwight King put his team within a goal with 3:20 to go, and the Sharks were reeling. Kept on their heels for most of the remainder of the game, Niemi had to make a couple spectacular saves to prevent the tying score.
For the game, San Jose won 14 more draws, had three more giveaways but also eight more takeaways. Yet Los Angeles had the edge in shots 37-26 and attempts 68-45, as well as three more hits. Niemi would have faced more shots if not for the extra nine blocks by the home team, which also won the ratios of blocks to shots and attempts.
There were only three choices for the three stars of the game:
- Burns had the first goal and created the final one with a takeaway and assist. He also had a block and got four of his six shot attempts on net. He has three points in two games at forward, but coach Todd McLellan did make reference to the switch confusing his former defenseman when they did it with the Houston Aeros.
- Couture had the second and last goal for the Sharks, plus an assist on the first. He lost his only draw, but had three more shots that were not scores, two of his shots blocked and registered one of his own.
- Were it not for Brown, the Kings would have been routed—that always shakes confidence in the next game. His two goals came on five shots and six attempts, and he had a hit but also lost the only two draws he took.
This game was the only home contest in a stretch of eight games and one of two in a stretch of 11. Thus, what has essentially been a road trip continues Saturday and Monday against both teams in Southern California, perhaps suggesting the team is capable of this kind of game away from HP Pavilion.