Kings can’t reel in the Sharks
When the Kings grow up, if they’re lucky they’ll look just like the league-leading San Jose Sharks.
Built around kids they drafted and developed carefully, backed by mature goaltenders and blessed with several mobile defensemen who have Stanley Cup rings, the Sharks are everything the Kings aim to be.
Everything the Kings might become one fine day.
But aren’t yet.
The Sharks rallied for a 3-2 shootout victory Monday at Staples Center, getting goals from Dan Boyle and Ryane Clowe in the tiebreaking procedure while the Kings got a backhander by Patrick O’Sullivan against Brian Boucher. San Jose extended its streak to 12-0-2 since its last regulation loss, on Nov. 9, and the Kings were left to wonder what might have been.
“We had it there for 65 minutes. We just didn’t get that third goal,” said Jason LaBarbera, who replaced Erik Ersberg at 6 minutes 54 seconds of the second period after the Kings’ starter pulled a groin muscle.
They were ahead, 2-1, when Ersberg was injured on a play no one could later recall. LaBarbera gave up the tying goal -- a short-handed dash by Patrick Marleau, who poked a bouncing puck away from Drew Doughty at the Sharks’ blue line -- but stopped 13 others before the shootout.
Ersberg, who played his way into the No. 1 goaltending spot, will be reevaluated today. The Kings didn’t wait that long to evaluate their performance.
“Ay-ay-ay,” said LaBarbera, who is 0-3 in shootouts this season. “There’s a reason why they’re the best team in the league.
“It would have been nice to end that streak of theirs, but that’s the way it is. It’s tough to lose those shootouts, especially for me. I haven’t been my best in them, either. I haven’t really given the guys much of a chance to win those.”
Despite losing Ersberg, the Kings acquitted themselves well enough to consider this a milepost in their long and painful evolution. They had won three of their previous four games and seemed primed to prolong that surge. They were leading, 2-1, late in the second period when Boyle, one of San Jose’s active and agile defensemen, was sent to the penalty box for hooking.
Marleau, one of the NHL’s top 10 scorers, poked the puck away from rookie Doughty and beat LaBarbera with a short wrist shot at 15:43. The Kings had a 28-25 advantage in shots, including 5-0 in overtime, but the Sharks held on.
“The Kings were prepared to play. They started better than we did,” said Todd McLellan, San Jose’s first-year coach. “I thought our team was aware of it, but we found a way to get back to it.”
The Sharks are facing their bout of adversity, having lost forwards Jonathan Cheechoo, Joe Pavelski and Jeremy Roenick to injuries. But they have formidable depth and an impressive defense that was augmented by the off-season signing of former King Rob Blake.
Before the game, Blake said the Sharks’ strategy and approach are gifts from McLellan, a former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach and coach in the Minnesota Wild’s minor league system.
McLellan wants every game to be a step in preparing for the playoffs, and Blake cited a recent game in which the Sharks badly outshot the Edmonton Oilers but couldn’t break through. That experience, Blake said, should help in April, May and June.
“You’re going to have that in the playoffs. You’re going to have a good goaltender on the other side and you’ve got to find a way to get to that goaltender,” Blake said. “Everything is based on ‘This can happen in a playoff situation, and how are we going to get by it?’ ”
They found a way to get by the Kings on Monday.
The Kings, capable of brilliance and of blunders sometimes minutes apart, played up to the Sharks’ level in the brisk first period.
The Kings scored first, after a mistake by the Sharks. Boyle had the puck down low, but his pass was intercepted by an alert O’Sullivan, who has excelled the last few games. He passed the puck back to the blue line to Matt Greene, whose blast caromed off the stick of a Sharks player and eluded Boucher at 4:55.
Teddy Purcell extended the lead to 2-0 at 9:52 when he intercepted a pass by Christian Ehrhoff and turned before unleashing a shot that found the net for his first goal since he was promoted from Manchester last week.
Clowe scored the Sharks’ first goal, on a power play, when he pounced on the rebound of a shot by Boyle at the left side of the slot. Marleau’s goal left them even, on the scoreboard if not in the standings or playoff potential.
Kings Coach Terry Murray praised the Sharks’ puck control and puck pressure, which he said led to several mistakes by the Kings.
He doesn’t like so-called measuring stick games, he said, “but I do look at the end of the day at how we played. We did hold them to a good number of shots. They didn’t blow us out in any one area. They had puck possession we had some good opportunities in the offensive zone. It was a pretty well-balanced game.”
A balance that, in the end, tipped toward the Sharks.