Preview: San Jose Sharks (23-12-1) @ Los Angeles Kings (17-15-4)
How to Watch and What to Watch For
The Sharks are at the top of the Pacific, have won four in a row and eight of the last ten. The Kings have dropped out of the wild card spot, are trying to avoid embarking on a three-game losing streak, and don’t seem to remember how to score goals.
What could go wrong?
For the Kings, this certainly feels like it’s getting into “must win” territory. The Sharks are pretty firmly in control of the Pacific at this point, but letting them further their lead while the Kings slip further behind teams like the Flames and Stars -- both of whom had been thought to be pretty iffy to even make the playoffs, based on early-season play -- seems like a pretty bad idea.
Based on morning skate, no line changes are coming. Which is fine -- changing up the lines probably isn’t going to make any of these guys suddenly find their offense. Teams are pitting their best players against Jeff Carter and company; Anze Kopitar’s offense has fled; and we’ve got Nick Shore -- with seven career goals and a 4.3% shooting average -- talking about going to the net and finishing plays. I like Nick Shore just fine, but when you’ve got more confidence in your bottom six to make plays happen than your stars, well, that’s an issue.
Aside from Tyler Toffoli hopefully returning soon, there’s probably not much help coming. The Kings are what they are. The losses recently have all read like a page out of the same book: slow start, fall behind early, get shut down by a hot goalie. On the one hand, at least they’re not looking as awful as they did in Buffalo.
On the other hand: yikes, guys. Yikes.
Anyway, speaking of hot goalies, Martin Jones gets the net tonight against his old team. He certainly loves handing the Kings losses, and he’s coming in fully rested, having backed up Aaron Dell last night in a shut-out of the Flyers. So. You know. All of this could be better.
The Sharks will be without Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the back end after taking a puck to the face. Recent reports on the injury say that it’s not as bad as it first appeared, but he most likely is not traveling with the team to Los Angeles, freeing up a spot for Dylan DeMelo instead.
There aren’t many weaknesses for the Sharks -- maybe the regular scratching of Matt Nieto (28 career goals, 50 PIM) for Mike Haley (3 career goals, 264 PIM) in order to insert some grit into the lineup. Maybe Mikkel Boedker’s disappointing season. Maybe a power play that’s gone a little cold as compared to last season (23rd in the league over the last month). But after a bit of a middling start, the Sharks have shown that their ride to the Stanley Cup Final last year was no fluke.
I don’t know what you’re all going to be doing while watching this game, but I’m probably going to be hiding under a pile of pillows and just waiting for it to be over.
Happy New Year’s Eve, y’all. Watch hockey responsibly. Don’t swear at your television so loudly that you frighten your neighbors.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Gaborik - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Setoguchi
Clifford - Dowd - Lewis
King - Shore - Nolan
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
McNabb - Gravel
San Jose Sharks
Marleau - Thornton - Pavelski
Labanc - Couture - Boedker
Meier - Tierney - Donskoi
Karlsson - Haley - Ward
Martin - Burns
DeMelo? - Braun
Dillon - Schlemko
Opposing Preview: Fear the Fin