Let’s get the ugly out of the way:
The Calgary Flames have turned red-hot as feared (excuse the pun), riding high on a seven-game win streak. They have now taken advantage of the Kings’ bye week, leapfrogging them in the Pacific Division standings.
The San Jose Sharks have the Kings’ number this season. The Kings have lost their last three against the Sharks, only scoring two goals in those games. San Jose has now won three in a row, and shows no sign of feeling sorry for itself after the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals letdown. And with backup goalie Aaron Dell defeating the low-howling Arizona Coyotes in a shootout last night, the Sharks too have passed the Kings in the standings.
The Kings have lost their last four, giving up four goals in each of those games. They have sputtered out of the gate after their bye week. Now they are in the wild card position, tied with Minnesota, and with Colorado, Chicago, and Anaheim close behind.
Before the bye week, each Kings game was a very close fight. Even the 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights was a close game in the end, with the Kings only struggling in the first period. But since the bye week, the Kings have now lost two games in a row in which they have been outmatched for all sixty minutes.
Less than five minutes in, Dylan DeMelo kept the puck in at the blue line. The shot-pass bounced off the leg pad of Darcy Kuemper, who got the start, hoping to wake up his teammates. Joonas Donskoi chased the rebound and made a turnaround pass to the uncovered Chris Tierney, who shot it into a wide-open net. Kurtis MacDermid stared at the net the whole time and never looked back to notice the hungry Tierney behind him, looking to bite.
Then in the second period, DeMelo broke out at the right wing, and shot the puck against off of Kuemper’s pad. Melker Karlsson was adequately covered by Kevin Gravel, but Tyler Toffoli stopped chasing Barclay Goodrow who was trailing behind Karlsson. Goodrow buried the rebound and it was 2-0 Sharks. DeMelo, Donskoi, and Tierney finished with two points each.
From there, the Sharks played carefree. They were toying with the Kings, seeing how creatively they could bounce another rebound off of Kuemper to score.
The Kings started the second and third periods well. A breakaway by Kyle Clifford. A penetration move by Alex Iafallo. Wide-open chances by Clifford and Anze Kopitar. Time and room in front of the net. Point shots with traffic. Power play chances. But all were stopped by the solid positioning of goaltender Martin Jones, who got excellent help from the defense, especially Brent Burns who disrupted the Clifford breakaway.
Los Angeles had exciting offensive chances. But the Kings were outmatched for sixty minutes, as the Sharks scored in all three periods. The Sharks’ breakouts were just a little faster, more purposeful, and more threatening. San Jose carried the puck in with speed, whereas the Kings were content to dump the puck in most of the time. It was just like the last two matches between these teams—the Sharks had the extra edge to win—but this time in more convincing fashion. And I dare say that Peter DeBoer outcoached John Stevens, as the way San Jose sought and scored off rebounds looked strategic.
Now the Kings face the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on January 18. Pittsburgh is one of two teams the Kings have not faced yet this season. The other is the Dallas Stars, who are two points ahead of the Kings for the first wild card spot.
The game came with consequences for MacDermid, who was sent down to the AHL, along with Oscar Fantenberg.
It doesn’t get any easier from here.