13-6-1, 27 points
11-8-4, 26 points
3rd in Western Conference
10th in Western Conference
Don't get me wrong. The Kings still have a very good team and could definitely catch fire with three quarters of the NHL season left to play.
Still, their early season struggles have made them a team that's more middling than dominant, as most suggested they would be. The addition of Mike Richards has paid off on the offensive end; the dynamic center has 19 points in 23 games played this year. Despite that, they're eleventh in the West (25th in the league) in goals scored, and they're giving up an equal amount of goals to their competition. Not a good way to be successful.
They may have just one less point than San Jose, but they've done that in three games more than the Sharks team they face tonight. As I said before, there's plenty of time for Los Angeles to right the ship, but time may be running out for their head coach Terry Murray. As unfair as it might be, Murray has been given a skilled team... something that comes with high expectations and a low margin for error.
Much of this may sound familiar, and that's another reason why it's far too soon to write Los Angeles out of the Western Conference picture, or even the race for the Pacific Division title. Just one year ago, the Sharks got off to an equally disappointing start (as I'm sure you all remember), but got hot in the second half on their way to defending their Pacific Division title. I wouldn't like for my team to be in that position and have to work their way out of it, but it can be done.
Nothing would be sweeter for LA than to start a new winning streak against the team that took them out in the playoffs last year. As such, San Jose shouldn't expect an easy match tonight. As most rivalries go, teams usually get riled up to play one another regardless of any recent misfortune.
Coming off a loss to another rival in Vancouver, though, the Sharks won't be an easy opponent either. I'd agree with Todd McLellan that San Jose played one of their best games of the season in the loss to the Canucks, and should come out ready to go for an important divisional game.
The Sharks will look to put up a heavy shot total against the Kings, who have been out shot in seven of their twelve November games. While Jonathan Quick is still putting up strong numbers, he's not playing out of his head like he was in October.
What San Jose will need, both tonight an going forward, is improvement from defenseman Dan Boyle. The all-star caliber blue liner is definitely slumping, and while it's not uncommon for a player of his age to start to plateau from a skill perspective, the plummet that Boyle has experienced can't be explained by normal progression. We don't see this continuing, but it makes you wonder if there's some kind of injury or other unknown circumstance slowing him down.
Prediction: Sharks win 5-1. Goals by Boyle (x4) and McGinn.