This was the way the Kings can and should play.
They overcame an early deficit Saturday against San Jose, capitalized on their power plays, took only two minor penalties and stifled a high-scoring opponent to win a division game, returning from their four-day Christmas break to impose their will on the Sharks in a 3-1 victory at Staples Center.
Tyler Toffoli scored from close range in the first period, Anze Kopitar converted a rebound during a power play in the middle period and Jake Muzzin blasted a slap shot past Antti Niemi during a power play in the third period to lift the Kings (18-11-7) past the Sharks (19-12-5).
Goaltender Jonathan Quick made 21 saves to earn his 15th win and help improve the Kings' record against Pacific division rivals to 6-1-3. The Kings converted two of four power plays and killed both penalties they took.
"This is how we want to play, right there," said Kings defenseman Matt Greene, who shared the team lead with four hits and also with two blocked shots. "Just a physical, speed game, and obviously staying out of the box is the main thing right now. We're just giving teams too many opportunities on the power play."
And unlike their final game before the break —a late collapse in a 4-3 loss to Calgary — the Kings held onto this one.
"It's the type of game we need to play here, with a lot of hockey coming up. It's four-point games here," Greene said. "We gave one away before Christmas. We wanted to make sure we got this one."
They got it with a thorough effort.
"I think everyone, every line, every defenseman, I think everyone played well and that's what we need to do," defenseman Drew Doughty said.
Energized by the rest they enjoyed during the NHL's Christmas break, both teams started the game with speed and emotion. The Sharks scored first, on a turnover by the Kings, but the Kings matched that before the period ended.
Sharks center Joe Thornton, who lost the captaincy after last season in a move designed to shake things up after the team's first-round playoff loss to the Kings, again showed that he doesn't need a "C" on his uniform to be a leader. He poked the puck away from Justin Williams as the Kings' right wing started up ice from his own zone, and passed it to Joe Pavelski, whose shot dribbled past Quick at 2:39.
The Kings pulled even at 14:04 on Toffoli's goal, but the best part of the play was the setup pass from defenseman Jamie McBain, at the right point, to Toffoli down low on the left side.
The Kings converted their second advantage to take a 2-1 lead. Kopitar, who had been cut on the right ear by a high stick earlier in the period and briefly went to the locker room, returned in time to swoop on the rebound of a shot by Marian Gaborik at 10:13. That goal extended the Kings' streak to five games in which they've scored at least one goal with a man advantage, their longest such streak this season.
Muzzin's blast from the left circle at 3:18 of the third period, assisted by Kopitar and Doughty, gave the Kings a two-goal cushion.
"We need special teams to play like we did tonight," Kopitar said after the game. "And I think just puck management, the puck possession game, that's the biggest thing for us.
"...Everybody says the best defense is offense so you keep the puck away from them, you keep it to yourself, it's the best thing to do."
Do it a lot more times and their hold on a playoff spot should be more secure.