Sharks Gameday: A Litmus Test
|12-3-0, 24 points||8-5-2, 18 points |
|1st in Western Conference ||9th in Western Conference |
| || |
Battle of California
As far as early season matchups go, tonight is the biggest test the Sharks have faced yet.
An opportunity to win three games in a row for the first time this year? Check. A tilt against a Division rival? Check. Going up against one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now?
Check, check, and check.
Los Angeles enters tonight's game on a six game winning streak-- they're hotter than Hansel right now, and playing some of the best hockey the city of Los Angeles has likely ever seen. Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar have been a tour de force, Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier have been absolutely lights out (.944 and .922 SV%'s respectively), and their young blueline has stepped up to the plate by only allowing 28.1 shots against per game.
A year ago, when the Kings were leading the Pacific at the end of October, we had this to say:
While not a must-have by any means at this stage of the season, the two organizations will be approaching the game with similar mind-sets. For the Kings, it's a litmus test. For the Sharks, it's an emphasis on traditional divisional roles.
For both, it's an opportunity to make a direct statement. And that's something we haven't been able to say for a long time.
Heading into tonight, the roles from a season ago have changed to some degree. The Sharks, who have struggled with consistency on a game by game basis this season, likely view this as a litmus test-- can they begin to perform as expected in the offensive zone, cut down on the turnovers, and capitalize on their opportunities? Are they as good as their loaded roster indicates? And Los Angeles, while not historically a powerhouse in the Pacific, will see this as a statement game to reaffirm their current spot as top dogs in the West.
Coming into the year, many pundits were predicting that the Kings would end up with the Pacific Divison crown. It would be the first time Los Angeles has ever won the Pacific, as their 1991 division title came in the Smythe Division, and one that would put a stamp on Dean Lombardi's architectural mastery of composing this team.
Lombardi has done a phenomenal job in not rushing into things since being announced GM of the Kings in April of 2006. His draft selections have produced some of the best young NHL talent over the years, including but not limited to, Jonathan Bernier, Wayne Simmonds, Drew Doughty, and Brayden Schenn. Fortuitious draft selections due to porous regular season records had a lot to do with that (LA has averaged the 7th pick in the entry draft over the last five years), but a large part of why this has been successful for the Kings is Lombardi's willingness to let the kids compete for spots on the roster. He hasn't rushed their production, emphasizing the idea that putting in work down in the minors is beneficial, and hasn't splurged in free agency-- the majority of his major roster additions have come via trade, and although the city was clammoring for Kovalchuk this offseason, Lombardi stuck with his guns and didn't cave to the contract demands.
As a result, Los Angeles has $6.07 MM in available cap space this year if they want to acquire a rental at the deadline, and a whopping $18.8 MM next offseason when players such as Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson, Trevor Lewis, and Brad Richardson will all be restricted free agents. If slow and steady wins the race, Lombardi is doing his best to live to those principles.
And it's beginning to pay off.
Be sure to tune in for this one folks-- it's going to be a doozy.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by McGinn, Thornton, and Demers. Plank wishes Willie Mitchell a speedy recovery from his fractured wrist, at least one that will allow him to play on December 27th at FTF's Night At The Tank.