For one night, the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings were transported back to last April. Both teams played as if they were back in the first round of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, going all-out in one of the hardest-fought contests of the year. If not for the shootout, it could have been mistaken for a playoff game.
The puck drop was instantly met with a chant of "BEAT LA," one that only grew louder as the night went on. With the traditional hatred between the Bay Area and Southland as well as last year’s playoff series, the Tank denizens were not going to miss out on that chant.
All night the second line was buzzing, led by a red-hot Logan Couture. Fitting, then, that they got the game’s first goal. Midway through the second period, Couture battled along the boards by the benches to get the puck in the Kings’ zone. After a shot on net, Patrick Marleau batted the puck to Ryane Clowe. Clowe dished it to a waiting Couture, who one-timed it over Jonathan Quick’s shoulder for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
However, the Kings answered back in the second with just over a minute left in the period. After a questionable interference call on Logan Couture drawn by noted embellisher Dustin Brown, Mike Richards was left undefended by the face-off circle and shot it past Niemi.
Statistically, the special teams failed tonight. The power play failed to convert on five chances, and the penalty kill went 1-for-3 and allowed the only Kings goal. However, the lack of success on the power play was not for lack of trying; the puck was cycled well and the Sharks got plenty of shots off, including on second chances. Only one power play saw the Sharks fail to set up a cycle in the Kings’ zone.
The penalty kill, though allowing a goal, was also quite good. Sharks pressured the puck carriers and rarely let them set up in their zone. The lone miscue was by Patrick Marleau, who failed to defend a pass to Mike Richards that led to the Kings' goal.
The game went scoreless through the rest of regulation and overtime despite several chances at both ends. Both Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi were superb, making fantastic saves and being named the third and second stars of the game, respectively. However, as with many goalie duels, the game eventually goes to a shootout.
As Todd McLellan is apt to do, he chose to go first in the shootout. His first three shooters all failed to score in different ways: Pavelski missed the net, Handzus’s shot was saved by Quick, and Boyle hit the post. On the other end, Niemi was perfect against Stoll, Kopitar, and Brown.
Then, the Sharks’ not-so-secret shootout weapon carefully hopped over the boards in the fourth round; Ryane Clowe, he of 9 game-deciding shootout goals. Clowe’s shootout move is known across the league: forehand, backhand, roofs it. But as more and more goalies get familiar with The Move, he has started using the Bizarro Move: backhand, forehand, roofs it. Tonight, he went with the latter, and sniped it over Jonathan Quick. Quick, if you remember, was perfect in shootouts last season.
On the other end of the ice, Niemi stopped the Kings’ goal-scorer Mike Richards, winning the game and giving Clowe his 10th game-deciding shootout goal.
Occasionally, there are games when a skater fails to record a point but is so effective otherwise that they are one of the stars of the game. Tonight, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was so dominant defensively was chosen as the first star, and deservedly so. He blocked a franchise-record 8 shots and was lights-out on every odd-man rush he encountered. Through poke-checks and shot blocks, there were few – if any – shots generated by the Kings off of rushes Vlasic was defending. Nights like these are why Vlasic should be in the conversation for the Norris trophy this season.
With both teams wanting to enter the Christmas break on a good note, they played all-out, giving Sharks and Kings fans alike a highly entertaining game. The Sharks ended up on top, increasing their winning streak to four games and keeping hold of the Pacific division lead.