SAN JOSE — Coming attractions?
The Kings and the Sharks again staged an entertaining, hard-hitting hockey game — perhaps a sneak peek of a potential playoff series between these intense California rivals — which San Jose won, 2-1.
But there were far more significant issues for the Kings beyond the final score as prized defenseman Drew Doughty left the game with an upper-body injury in the first period Thursday night at SAP Center and did not return.
There was no additional word regarding his status and the prognosis.
It looked, by all accounts, to be a routine play in the Kings’ defensive end with about 11:40 remaining in the opening period. Doughty hit Sharks forward Tyler Kennedy in the left circle with a shoulder check. It appeared as though Doughty injured his shoulder as he almost immediately reached for that area.
He was clearly in discomfort on the bench and left the game shortly thereafter.
Doughty’s importance to the Kings cannot be underestimated. He leads the team in minutes played, averaging nearly 26 minutes a game, and is their highest-scoring defenseman with 37 points.
On top of that, Doughty has been the picture of durability as this was his 199th consecutive NHL game played. At the Olympics, he also was an offensive catalyst for gold-medal-winning Canada, a team that played exceptional defense.
At this stage, it could simply be that the Kings are unwilling to take any chances with Doughty with only four games remaining before the playoffs.
The loss of Doughty meant the Kings dropped to five defensemen, and Slava Voynov picked up the majority of the extra minutes, logging 27 minutes and 44 seconds of ice time. Jake Muzzin played 23-plus minutes, as did Alec Martinez.
“Losing a D-man, especially one of Drew Doughty’s caliber, it’s a big hole,” Muzzin said. “I thought the guys did well with five D, keeping it short, keeping it simple. We knew we were going to get a lot more ice (time). For the most part, we did a pretty good job of it.”
If the season ended today, the Kings and the Sharks would meet in the first round, but San Jose is still in a fierce battle with the Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division, pulling within one point of Anaheim.
The Kings are in a spot — locked in third in the division — where they can rest players.
Muzzin called the game against the Sharks “a little preview” of what could unfold in the playoffs. He joked about Voynov’s brief scrap against Sharks captain Joe Thornton.
“That little edge?” he said, smiling. “That little angry Russian out there tonight.”
Said Kings Coach Darryl Sutter: “Slava’s not going to back down. That’s their best forward and that was our best defenseman.”
Sutter also spoke about the collective effort of his defense.
“They played a scrappy game,” he said. “There’s lots of nights you go to five D. And Greene coming back. He was fresh….Marty (Martinez) can play both sides and Muzzin, Marty and Slava played big minutes. And Robyn (Regehr) does what he does.”
The Kings officially qualified for the playoffs with Wednesday night’s win over the Phoenix Coyotes and haven’t been moved to rush the likes of forward Dwight King back into the lineup. This was his third straight game out of action since he was injured against Winnipeg on Saturday.
Against the Sharks, the Kings also rested defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has played in 72 of 78 games this season. Mitchell on Thursday was chosen as the Kings’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Los Angeles chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Assn. (PHWA).
The annual award is in honor of the late Bill Masterton, who played for the Minnesota North Stars and died Jan. 15, 1968, as a result of an injury in a game.
“Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell has long exemplified the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey that the Masterton is intended to recognize, most recently with his comeback from a knee injury that forced him to miss all of last season,” the PHWA release said.
Taking Mitchell’s place in the lineup against San Jose was defenseman Matt Greene. Greene has appeared in only two games since the Olympic break ended, and not since March 17.
With the Kings playing on back-to-back nights, starting goalie Jonathan Quick also got a break. Backup Martin Jones faced 21 shots, giving up both goals in the second period. He gave up a goal by Brent Joe Pavelski only four seconds into the Sharks power play, at 7:15, making it 1-1.
Just under five minutes later, the Sharks’ Logan Couture got the game winner, converting a wraparound before Jones could recover to cover the left post. The lone Kings’ goal was by forward Jordan Nolan, at 3:36 of the first period, his first goal since Dec. 17.
The Kings called up center Linden Vey from their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H. He was scheduled to meet the Kings on Thursday night in San Jose. This is the fourth time the Kings have brought him up this season and he has five assists in 18 games for Los Angeles.