The Los Angeles Kings haven't won a season series against the San Jose Sharks since before the lockout. Not the 2012 lockout... the 2004-05 lockout. For whatever reason, the Sharks have simply had the Kings' number for a long time. The highly anticipated first matchup between Los Angeles and San Jose came at a time when the Kings were rising and the Sharks were slumping. And yet, at HP Pavilion on Thursday night, the Sharks came out on top again, winning 4-3 despite a late LA surge.
(This game was immensely frustrating, and our original idea was to simply write a bunch of profanities. Instead, I'm gonna write a bunch of "What if"s. Enjoy!)
What if... Antti Niemi hadn't been able to maintain his stellar play? LA had nine of the first ten shots on goal, but couldn't get the all-important first goal. (At least, the first goal is important to everyone except the Ducks, who keep winning after conceding first.) The first power play also went to the Kings, and despite holding the puck in the zone for 70 seconds to start, nothing came of it. Niemi made 34 saves and, until the latter stretches of the third, made life extremely difficult for the LA shooters. The only goal Niemi allowed was to Dustin Brown, who scored on a counter-attack off of feeds from Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar. The first line had a lot of shots tonight, and this one put LA on the board.
What if... the Sharks hadn't moved Brent Burns to forward? The decision was mocked heavily by a lot of people, but Burns was a difference-maker all night. A couple minutes after the power play, Justin Braun charged up the ice, and though Jake Muzzin broke up the initial rush, the Kings' D was scrambling. Patrick Marleau's point shot was deflected to the front and Burns got there first to knock the puck past Quick. Burns was wreaking havoc on the forecheck all night, and 27 seconds into the third, he would make another big play. Drew Doughty took the puck in front of his own goal, began skating up the left side, and pushed the puck in front of him. Far enough in front for Burns to poke it away, and the Sharks had a 2-on-0. As Doughty and Alec Martinez collided and fell to the ice in comical fashion, Burns dished to Logan Couture, who finished it off. That goal put the Sharks up 4-1 and, though it didn't put the game to bed, it at least made it go upstairs and brush its teeth.
What if... Jake Muzzin hadn't dropped the gloves? This is the one you'll be hearing about the most. Early in the second, the Kings squandered another power play but looked to continue their first-period shot advantage (they got 16 shots to San Jose's 6). But six minutes in, Andrew Desjardins crushed Colin Fraser behind the net, and while it was unpenalized (and rightfully so), Muzzin took exception. Maybe standing up for his teammate earned him some locker room points, but the 19 minutes he sat in the box certainly didn't help the Kings. The four minutes of bonus penalties (two for instigation, two for wearing a visor while doing so) put LA on a long penalty kill, and the Sharks scored twice. Matt Irwin got the first on a fluttering shot right after Jim Fox said "The goalie has to be your best penalty killer."
What if... Jonathan Bernier, and not Jonathan Quick, had started? Quick should have stopped that shot by Irwin, and he didn't. In his sixth straight start, Quick allowed three goals on 12 shots. The third was a long one-timer off the stick of Logan Couture 1:27 after Irwin's tally, and though that one was screened, Bernier entered the game immediately after. The backup had a good evening, stopping 13 of 14, and though it's a lot easier to do in hindsight, Sutter will face a lot of second-guessing after handing Quick his sixth start in ten days. Expect Bernier to get the start on Saturday against the Sharks, and if that doesn't happen, a back-to-back with Phoenix on Monday and Tuesday will probably offer a side-by-side comparison of the netminders.
What if... all of the prior factors hadn't put the Kings down 4-1? The Kings are still a third-period team, and after Burns tallied at the beginning of the third, Los Angeles played a strong 19 1/2 minutes. As he did on Tuesday, Dustin Brown scored a third-period goal which didn't matter in the end, but in the midst of a strong game for the Kings' first line, it reduced a three-goal deficit and threw the Kings a lifeline. A hopeful shot from Justin Williams got through Niemi and hit the post, but Brown fought for the loose puck, held for a second, and whipped a wrist shot off the post and in with 7:12 to go. They didn't let up on the pressure, and the third goal with 3:20 left was almost predictable. What wasn't predictable was who contributed... Keaton Ellerby passed to Rob Scuderi, Scuderi's point shot produced a rebound, and Dwight King was there to bang the rebound home. But there was simply not enough time, and though Williams nearly tied the game off of a rebound from Jeff Carter's shot, the Sharks held on.
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to play these guys on Saturday at Staples. You have to think the Kings will make some adjustments for Burns and (hopefully) show a bit more restraint. The first line is scoring with regularity. Los Angeles has been great at home this season. And Drew's gonna score soon... right? Regardless, the crowd and the players will be amped. Get your profanities and gripes out in the comments, and hopefully we'll see a better show in two days.