By Mary Walsh
LOS ANGELES- It appears that the Visitor’s Curse still haunts the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. The mischievous spirit might even be getting more violent. Thursday night, the Sharks lost to the Kings by a score of 4-1. They also lost star forward and rookie Tomas Hertl to a knee-on-knee hit from LA’s Dustin Brown. How long the team will be without Hertl is not yet clear.
The fact that the Kings won was not at all out of the ordinary for these teams, the home team has won going back 15 games now. What was unusual was the score: 4-1. It has been some time since a game between these two ended with such a lopsided result. Patrick Marleau, playing his 1200th NHL game, scored the only Sharks goal.
McLellan made a couple of lineup changes for Thursday’s game, including moving Martin Havlat to the second line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. He put Scott Hannan back in, paired with Brad Stuart. He also put Tyler Kennedy in, on the fourth line with Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins.
The first penalty of the game went to the Kings at 3:25, to Drew Doughty for holding. The Sharks had several good chances, a couple that looked like dead certainties (one for Couture, another for Irwin) but they missed. The Kings had a good short-handed chance late in the penalty but Niemi gloved it.
The Sharks lost a lot of races to the Kings in the first period. Dump-ins were about as effective as turnovers. As a result, the Sharks were outshot through most of the period, though by the end of it they were only behind 13-11.
With a minute left in the period, the Kings’ Dustin Brown collided with Tomas Hertl just inside the Sharks’ zone. The knee-on-knee hit earned him a five minute major. Hertl left the ice hobbling. During the ensuing delayed penalty, Brent Burns earned a penalty for interference. The teams finished the period playing 4-on-4. James Sheppard was tapped to fill in for Tomas Hertl on the Thornton line.
The second period started with the teams still at 4-on-4, and when Burns’ penalty expired the Sharks still had over 2:30 left on the man advantage. The Sharks finally found a way to sustain pressure, but two good chances in close and an Irwin shot off the post were all the Sharks had to show for the power play.
The Kings’ goaltender Martin Jones was very good, but the Sharks were unable to take advantage of the second chances they did create. As McLellan said before the game, how well Jones has played was not the Sharks’ biggest challenge:
I think for our group it’s more about preparing to face six players rather than one goaltender. The five others that are on the ice do a tremendous job for them defensively and they position themselves well around the net, it allows the goaltender to feel comfortable and make a lot of saves. They’ve been successful playing that way. It’s not just the guy wearing the pads, it’s the other five that you’ve got to beat as well.
The first goal of the game came at 5:26 of the second, scored from above the left circle by the Kings’ Alec Martinez, with an assist to Tyler Toffoli. The goal came from a shot made possible when the Sharks failed to clear the puck or control it despite several tries. At least three, maybe four Sharks touched it in the defensive zone before Martinez got it.
Joe Thornton was called for holding against Anze Kopitar at 9:03. Despite starting in their own zone, the Sharks’ penalty killers (including Mike Brown now) cleared the puck five times and even got a couple of short-handed shots off. As soon as the power play expired, however, Slava Voynov made a clean pass from the Kings’ zone, right onto Tyler Toffoli’s stick at the Sharks’ blue line. He skated in and put a shot in the far corner to give the Kings a 2-0 lead.
An impressive series of saves by Martin Jones was punctuated by three inexplicably failed shots from Sharks Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels. Wingels even tried from both sides of the net, and he almost poked it in behind Jones but the rookie goaltender twisted around and stopped it with his glove.
During the second period, the teams were even in shots at ten, with total shots being 23-20 for the Kings. Of course, the 2-0 score was more significant, especially since the Kings had not lost when leading after the second since March 30.
Instead of challenging that pattern, the Sharks gave up another goal 36 seconds into the third period. Jeff Carter was given far too much time in the Sharks’ zone, and an ill-advised slide to block a shot left Niemi alone with one of the better shots in the league. Assists went to Dwight King and Robyn Regehr.
The Sharks drew another penalty when Jake Muzzin pushed Martin Havlat into the boards from behind. From camera distance, Havlat didn’t appear injured but he was certainly shoved from behind. He was out playing a shift later on the second power play unit.
The Kings killed the penalty off, and then they scored again. This time it was Dwight King’s goal, with the assists going to Carter and Regehr.
The Sharks got another chance on the power play when Mike Richards went to the box for high-sticking at 6:37. As soon as the penalty expired, the Kings went the other way 3 on 2, but didn’t score.
With just over two minutes left in the game, San Jose’s second line made it in to the Kings’ zone and Marleau scored his 16th of the season. A lone assist went to Martin Havlat.
The final shot count was preposterously even at 32 for each team. The Sharks’ power play went 0-4, their penalty kill was 1-0.
The Sharks play their next game at home on Saturday against the Dallas Stars. Puck drop at 7:30 pm.