Kings at Sharks Preview: A rebound game against the league's worst

The dynasty is over and all is right in the world.

The Los Angeles Kings (12-20-3, 8th Pacific) roll into town this afternoon for an early rivalry game against the San Jose Sharks (19-12-5, 2nd Pacific). Thongs haven't been easy for the Kings so far this season, while the Sharks are happily sitting in second place in the Pacific division. The Kings can't be counted out, though. They’ve pulled off some surprising wins and have a few rookies who are playing impressive hockey on a not-so-impressive team.

The San Jose Sharks are coming off an interesting week. They started out winning 7-3 over the Chicago Blackhawks. That game was a real team effort. All seven goals were scored by different players and both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell saw time between the pipes. After allowing three goals on four shots, Jones was replaced by Dell in net, who made 16 saves. Martin Jones got another shot in goal on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, where he walked away with a shutout, saving all of the Wild's 26 shots. Logan Couture had a pair of goals, following the single goal he scored against the Blackhawks earlier in the week.

Then things went a bit south against the Winnipeg Jets, where the Sharks fell 5-3. Martin Jones was in net and made 20 saves on 24 shots. Evander Kane, Joonas Donskoi and Joe Pavelski netted goals but Nikolaj Ehlers’ hat trick did the Sharks in.

As for the Kings, they’ve actually been standing strong in games as of late. After losing 4-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, they pushed their matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins to overtime. They lost 4-3, but they got a point out of it. Matt Luff got on the scoreboard that night. The 21-year-old rookie has played 21 games with the Kings and has netted 7 goals and 2 assists. Jake Muzzin scored his third goal in this game and Alex Iafallo scored his sixth. Iafallo found the net again against the Winnipeg Jets. The Sharks couldn’t pull off a win against them, but the Kings could, beating them 4-1. Alez Wagner scored two goals, while Nate Thompson had one.

Anze Kopitar leads the team in points with a mere 22. He has 8 goals and 14 assists on the season. Dustin Brown leads the team in goals with 9. Drew Doughty leads the team in assists with 17, with only 2 goals this season. This Kings team still relies on their longtime team members to produce points, but let’s be honest, they are not producing much. The Sharks have had a few goaltending and defensive hiccups and the Kings are far from a defensive threat. But they are coming off a 4-1 victory over the Jets, so I guess we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves here.

If you think the Sharks’ goaltending issues is a concern, you should be thankful you are not the Los Angeles Kings. They lost their starter, Jonathan Quick, early in the season to injuries. They went on to lose their backup, Jack Campbell, to injury as well. They pulled up Cal Petersen and Peter Budaj from their AHL affiliated Ontario Reign. Petersen has pulled off four wins and four losses in net with a .927 Save Percentage (SV%) and 2.57 Goals Against Average (GAA). He has played backup to Quick since his return to the lineup. Jack Campbell’s return seems near, as he has been assigned to the Reign for a conditioning assignment. He will be out until at least after the holidays, though.

Goaltending isn’t the only position the Kings have pulled Reign players for. Prior to facing the Sharks, the Kings have called up forwards Austin Wagner and Michael Amadio and defenseman Sean Walker.

The last time the Sharks saw the Kings was in October. The game ended in a 3-2 overtime victory for the Sharks. Timo Meier and Evander Kane scored first period goals, while Kopitar got the Kings on the board before the second period began. The Sharks couldn’t score in the second or third periods, but the Kings got another goal in the second to tie it up. The game went to an extra frame and Kevin Labanc scored a 3-on-3 goal to send the Sharks back to the Bay with their first win of the season.

Will Ilya Kovalchuk return to the lineup today?

Ilya Kovalchuk was expected to be out for four weeks after undergoing ankle surgery. He went under the knife early in December and seems to be ahead of schedule. He practiced with the Kings’ this week wearing a regular colored jersey, showing he could make contact. According to the Kings, he should be good to go to play against the Sharks. Kovalchuk has 5 goals and 9 assists in his return to the NHL this season.

Dell or Jones?

Martin Jones has been in the net the last few games, so we could see Dell between the pipes this weekend. Jones has had an off and on season, playing really well or not so well at all. He struggled badly against the Blackhawks and when Dell replaced him, he impressed with 16 saves on 16 shots. Jones had an off game again against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

I think Dell would probably be the best option going into this game. Dell has played 11 games this season with a 5-4-2 record. He has a 2.69 GAA and a .906 SV%. The Kings are Jones’ former club, though, and he is often trusted with starts against them. So who will be in goal is truly a toss up.

Is this game a must win for the Sharks? Or the Kings? Maybe both?

The Sharks are coming off a recently snapped win streak, but they’re heading into a competitive next few weeks after the Kings roll into town. The Sharks will finish out the year playing four more intradivision games. They’ll face the Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, first place Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. Currently, the Sharks sit in second place in the Pacific. These upcoming games against division rivals are going to be important and tough. A win against the Kings may be a must.

As for the Kings, we know the state that they are in. They lack the emotion in their play to come off as desperate for a victory. That being said, they have far more to prove than the Sharks do. Every game counts when you’re in the last place in the division, especially against one of your biggest rivals.

Who needs this win more? Probably the Kings because they are like I’ve stated before, a dumpster fire. But, the Sharks will definitely be in search of a win to kick off their upcoming run against Pacific division teams.

Bold prediction: The Sharks will win 3-1 with a Logan Couture hat trick. Cooch scored one goal against the Blackhawks and then two goals against Winnipeg. This is simple math.