It was a textbook road game for Los Angeles and a sleepy effort for San Jose as the Kings came into HP Pavilion fresh off a 3-2 overtime loss on Thursday. Jack Johnson and Kyle Clifford split a pair of goals and Drew Doughty added two of his own to systematically dismantle San Jose by the tune of 4-0.
The opening salvo was strong for the Sharks, but after an early power play came up empty the parade to the penalty box began. In a matter of six minutes Ryane Clowe took a pair of penalties and Ben Eager took one, with two of those three coming in the offensive zone. It isn't a particularly effective way to win a hockey game, and as Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan mentioned following the tilt, that sequence was a defining moment for his club.
"We had the first seven or eight minutes of the game we wanted play. We got on the power play and lost a little momentum there," McLellan said. "We were very undisciplined as far as penalties go and we can't do that. We have to understand where we are at this time of the year."
"I thought they were a much more competitive team than we were. We can talk about systems and what we did well and didn't do well on the power play, penalty kill, and faceoffs. It has to start with competitiveness."
That competitiveness was severely lacking for San Jose, much as you would expect a 4-0 score to indicate. Although the Sharks would manage to amass 34 shots by the time the game was complete, the Los Angeles blueline did an excellent job of limiting second chances and protecting Jonathan Quick in front of the net.
Quick, who registered his first postseason shutout in his career, struggled with rebound control early in the game. However, the play of Los Angeles' vaunted blueline, specifically newly acquired Willie Mitchell, stunted any sustained attack San Jose could conjure up throughout the first frame. As the game progressed Quick improved and began to regularly swallow up any chances San Jose managed to get to the net.
"We were a little short with key players out of the line-up. That requires a really competitive attitude by everyone that's playing," Kings Head Coach Terry Murray said following the game. "Guys have to really dig in and play hard for each other. They dig in when they have to, and to me, that is what defines a gritty hockey club."
Although game one was decidedly less physical than game two, Los Angeles continued to push their strong cycle game on the Sharks in game two. With players such as Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds controlling the boards in the Sharks offensive zone, San Jose had a lot of issues getting their breakout moving up the ice. Furthermore, since San Jose's forwards were presented with a quandary of sorts-- pinch down to the corners and help support the puck but give the Los Angeles blueline some good looks at the net, or cover the point and watch the Sharks defenseman get worked over along the boards as the momentum of the game gets sucked out of the building-- there was a distinct lack of flow for San Jose all throughout the night.
And then there wes the penalty kill, which continued to struggle with the immense issues that plagued the unit down the stretch run. The Sharks gave up two shorthanded markers early in the first period, courtesy of big point blasts by Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty respectively, and the Kings blueline accounted for nine of the team's twenty three total shots throughout the night.
San Jose's forwards gave the Kings defenseman far too much time with the puck in the early going, playing off their man by sending only one forward to the point to pressure the puck carrier. With the weak side defenseman able to move himself into prime shooting position due to the lack of pressure by the second Sharks forward, Los Angeles was able to dominate their man advantage situations by moving the puck briskly along the perimeter. And with players such as Smyth running traffic in front of the net, those point shots proved to be deadly.
Although McLellan justifiably chose to highlight his team's competitive nature as the biggest reason for the loss, San Jose's X's and O's in this situation did not go untinkered with following the first intermission. San Jose began to pressure the point much more effectively as the game wore along, contributing to three straight successful kills in the second and third.
"We went back to the drawing board and changed it up a little bit (during the first intermission)," Nichol said. "You want to take time and space away. It's the best League in the world and if you're going to give players time they're going to get shots through."
Even with the successful changes to the penalty kill approach, there's no doubt that the Sharks "compete level" was not up to the standards that the coaching staff expects of them. McLellan had some choice words for his entire team following the game, choosing to highlight the collective as his principal source of concern. However, it should be noted that the top line has contributed zero points throughout the first two games of this series.
As we mentioned in our game preview earlier today, Willie Mitchell and Drew Doughty, who have been tasked with Thornton's line in the first two games, have done a bang up job of controlling the Sharks top players.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan has never been one to pay too much attention to line-matching throughout the postseason, and history has shown that he's content to go power for power even with the last change at home. The Kings managed to get the pairing of Drew Doughty-Willie Mitchell out against Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi for the majority of the night, something that paid off dividends for Los Angeles-- although San Jose's top line didn't bleed very many shots in their own zone, they were contained for large portions of the night and had difficulty generating consistent scoring chances. The bulk of the Sharks' offensive opportunities came from lines centered by Couture and Pavelski.
If San Jose is going to take advantage of their superior scoring depth, it's imperative the top line manages to find a way to solve LA's top pairing. Mitchell had an excellent game one tasked against the Sharks big guns and showed just why he is one of the most dangerous and effective shutdown defenseman in the League.
Tonight was no exception. The top line did have a few notable scoring opportunities of course, with Setoguchi accounting for a team-high five shots and Marleau-Thornton adding two and one respectively, but those opportunities did not generate the results San Jose is counting on them for.
However, laying the blame at the feet of an individual line or an individual player clearly has no place in a sensible review of tonight's sloppy outing. The Sharks, as they have shown since January 16th, are a team that relies on every single asset of their lineup to produce. It's a team win and a team loss, the nature of a fickle sport such as hockey, and regrouping after a disheartening performance tonight at home will require each player and position to elevate their game when the series shifts to Los Angeles for game three on Tuesday.
"Tomorrow is a new day. In the playoffs you can't look back because you play so quick," Ryane Clowe said. "We were in this position before, we were in this position last year. We're going on the road and we're good on the road."
"It's up to us now to come back."