Sharks at Kings Preview: Hertling toward Pacific showdown

Our sweet Czech prince is on a tear.

The San Jose Sharks (10-16-5, seventh Pacific) head south to visit the Los Angeles Kings (16-12-5, second Pacific) for the season's second match-up. The pair last played each other on Nov. 25 in a 5-2 Kings victory in San Jose. Alexander Barabanov and Kevin Labanc scored, but an injured James Reimer allowed four goals and was placed on injured reserve the following day.

The Kings are coming off a grueling six-game road trip through Eastern Canada and finishing up in Boston. It’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks on the road, getting shut out twice in games to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres and losing in overtime to the cruddy Columbus Blue Jackets. The Kings finished with a 3-2 shootout win against the Bruins, netting two goals from Adrian Kempe in the third period, while Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore capped off the shootout.

After taking down the lowly Anaheim Ducks and the downtrodden Arizona Coyotes, San Jose is riding a two-game win streak. While the team did look solid in its last two contests, it’s hardly time for Sharks fans to start saving for playoff tickets. The team still sits fourth-worst in points percentage in the league while having played the highest number of games — save for the Kings.

Los Angeles is easily the healthier of the two teams heading into Saturday’s game. Brandon Lemieux is still on IR with a nipping lower-body injury and Viktor Arvidsson was out for Thursday’s game against Boston for the birth of his child. The Sharks might be getting reinforcements from defender Mario Ferraro, who returned to practice on Thursday. Barabanov missed Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes and was practicing on Friday. Matt Nieto is still on IR, but was practicing on Friday as well. Luke Kunin will miss the weekend’s games after leaving the Coyotes game.

Can Reimer continue to knock off the rust?

Reimer was able to ease back into action on Tuesday against Arizona, after having missed the previous seven games with a lower-body injury. The Sharks kept the Coyotes at bay with 13 shots over the first two periods, before the Desert Dogs tried to tie things up in the third period and registered nine shots. Reimer struggled with high-danger saves, giving up two goals on three high-danger shots — a byproduct of poor defense and also not having played in a few weeks.

Ranking 12th in the league in high-danger chance percentage, the Kings make good on offense (the Sharks rank fourth). Both teams play a very free-flowing game where they generate, but also give up their fair share of chances. Reimer is sitting with a .705 high danger save percent (HDSV%), while Jonathan Quick has posted a .654 HDSV%. Whichever goaltender can make the big save on Saturday is going to go a long way in winning this game.

Long Beach vs. Bald

Lately, San Jose has been dealing with injuries in the forward department. Barabanov and Nieto were both practicing on Friday, but with Kunin out, head coach David Quinn could run different lines than we’ve seen previously. Assuming Nieto and Barabanov return, who is going to play alongside Couture? More appropriately, who is going to play alongside Couture and Barabanov?

Nieto had established himself on the second line by using his speed to create high-danger and scoring chances, but is consistently outshot on a night-to-night basis. With Nick Bonino, the line has been much better, but with a very small sample size.

Nieto sliding onto the third line with Nico Sturm feels like a better fit. Sturm and Svechnikov are not known for their speed; Nieto can provide that and lead the forecheck on what could be a very solid third line, if Sturm continues his scoring prowess.

Stay hot, Tomas Hertl

Hertl has been on a quiet tear as of late. After taking responsibility for a critical giveaway against the Leafs, he has responded with seven points in five games and a point in every game, except against the Sabres on Dec. 4.

Over 37 career games against the Kings, Hertl has tallied 12 goals and 11 assists. When these two teams met in November, the Hertl line accounted for 15 of the Sharks' 53 shot attempts at 5-on-5, while Hertl himself ranked second on the team with .5 individual expected goals. Hertl is playing very well right now and this weekend feels like a culmination of his recent play.

Another monster game from Hertl is on the horizon, as the top line continues to roll through opponents.

Bold Prediction: Expect a lot of offense in this game. Hertl will continue his dominance with a three-point night, but the Kings win 5-3 with an empty netter.