Sharks Gameday: Bookends to a Disappointing January
|25-19-5, 55 points||26-22-1, 53 points |
|10th in Western Conference ||11th in Western Conference |
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In the ever tight playoff race, any game between Conference rivals begins to take on importance that grows increasingly larger as time goes by. And with the Sharks and Kings, two teams who the majority of pundits and fans expected to be at the top of the Pacific Division and in the mix for home-ice advantage, currently out of the playoff picture, tonight's matchup means even more.
The Kings and Sharks have had wildly similar seasons to date. As we mentioned, they were both expected to be two of the top teams in the Western Conference heading into the year, up there with Vancouver, Detroit, and Chicago in terms of standings points. Their rosters are loaded with talent young and old-- Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar, Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty, Logan Couture, Dustin Brown to name just a few-- and yet the temperate Californian winter brought with it an icy snowstorm usually reserved for the eastern portion of the continental United States.
In the month of January both teams played some extremely disappointing hockey. The Sharks logged a 5-6-0 record, with wins bookended by a disheartening six game losing streak, while Los Angeles put in a 4-8-0 effort that saw them only string one two game win streak together. For both organizations it was and is unacceptable-- and they both attempt to turn it around tonight.
The Sharks have left that losing streak behind, current owners of a four game win streak and building momentum going into the All-Star break. And the Kings have done right right lately as well to some degree. Although it's hard to label two wins a row a hot streak, the manner in which they've won their games is encouraging-- a 4-3 win over Phoenix came with a whole lot of goal scoring, and a 2-0 shutout of the Bruins saw Jonathan Quick make 34 saves.
As Rich Hammond of LAKings.com wrote, it was an encouraging sign:
The Kings held a three-month reunion Monday night at STAPLES Center. No name tags were required. Nobody had gone gray or bald or packed on a few extra pounds.
To be certain, though, these were the Kings, circa Oct. 2010, a group that looked to be on their way to something special. A bit of that magic came back Monday, as the Kings put forth a complete effort and beat the Boston Bruins 2-0 before a sellout crowd of 18,118.
San Jose and Los Angeles head into tonight with the same baggage they carried with them into a New Year's Day game which the Sharks won 1-0. Two teams who had underperformed relative to expectations, scrambling desperately for a playoff spot in a year when everyone expected them to be going toe to toe for the Division crown.
Tonight is the bookend to a disappointing month, where both teams have an opportunity leave the icy grip of January behind. The fight to stay out of the cellar continues. The fight to get back into the playoffs will require much more than a single sixty game effort.
Those two points? They transcend any division rivalry.
Because right now, neither team can afford to give up any ground.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by McGinn, Couture, and Wellwood.