March 20, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards (10) scores a goal past San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Kings of Pain, Sharks get spanked in LA 5-2...

The Los Angeles Kings took advantage of the many opportunities handed to them by the San Jose Sharks as team teal’s playoff hopes took another hit Tuesday Night with a 5-2 loss at the Staples Center. Just as the night before in an embarrassing home loss to Anaheim, everything that could have gone wrong for team teal did so and at the worst possible time. The Kings would get a short handed goal in the opening period and outscore the Sharks 4-1 over the last two periods as team teal became their own worst enemy for much of the evening. Antti Niemi, who was solid in games versus Nashville and Detroit just a few days back, has been shelled for eight goals in his last two starts as the Sharks defense just has all but disappeared into thin ice.

The Sharks lost on a night where all the teams they are chasing either won or gained a point in the standings during an overtime game. The Sharks with the loss fall back to 10th place in the Western Conference. Though the Sharks are just two points out of a playoff spot with nine games remaining, the last two games have exposed the Sharks as a team that is very vulnerable and not really a strong post season candidate, even if they make the post season. The Kings meanwhile seem to be getting hot at the right time and actually look like a team that could conceivably come out on the top in the Pacific Division. The win for Los Angeles’ was their fifth in a row. The Kings are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and are just finding their stride at the right time. As for the Sharks, well just remember that they are mathematically alive though it seems they are more like a ship without a leader or a compass. Even the presence of SJ Sharkie was not enough to lift teal considering that most else has seemed to fail since the end of January.

Recapping Another Bad LA Story:

Tug-O-War- The first period started a little slow for both teams with neither club getting a foot hold on the game early. Marc-Edouard Vlasic would challenge Kings goalie Jonathan Quick early as Vlasic would have a clear and wide open shot from the slot. Quick made the save as the Sharks established some early pressure. Niemi meanwhile would certainly see his share of pucks as in one early sequence he four stopped consecutive shots from Dwight King (twice), Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter. The Kings would continue to bring heat though the Sharks were able to manage defensively for a decent portion of the opening period.

The Sharks would get what looked like the game’s first big break when the Kings’ Anze Kopitar would draw a goalie interference penalty as he got mixed up with Niemi. The Sharks had control of the puck from the face off and tried to establish a forecheck in the Los Angeles’ defensive zone. About 50 seconds into the man advantage an errant pass from Logan Couture intended for Patrick Marleau would find it’s way to the stick of the Kings’ Willie Mitchell. From there Mitchell chipped it out of the LA defensive zone and onto the stick Mike Richards, who would then skate up ice leading a two on one breakaway. Once Richards was in the slot he fired a wrist shot that beat Niemi who seemed to be handcuffed by the oncoming puck. In what would prove to be a goal that would haunt the Sharks throughout the game, it was LA leading 1-0 despite team teal having the man advantage.

As play resumed Martin Havlat who’s been riding a hot streak since his return to the line up took the face off and brought the puck down ice towards the Kings goal. Havlat’s first shot was blocked, however the puck stayed with Havlat. On his second shot he drilled a wrister that beat Quick top shelf as the Sharks got a power play goal to tie the game just 22 second after giving up a short handed goal. The Kings would finish the period out shooting the Sharks 12-8 however got out of the period tied 1-1. Havlat’s power play goal was a nice answer back after a major Sharks error allowed for LA’s short handed goal.

Kings Bring the Hammer- The second period saw team teal have some chances early on Quick as Daniel Winnik almost had an early tip in past the Kings’ net minder. Vlasic too would later launch a hard slap shot that Quick saved, though he seemed to have been stung by it initially. Even Joe Pavelski was able to drill a hard slap shot that Quick locked down in his pads. However, these would be the only real highlights for the Sharks this period as soon the Kings established their forecheck and control of the ice.

The Kings’ attack put pucks on Niemi early and often as Los Angeles would out shoot team teal 16-5 for the period. The Kings offensive pressure was relentless as the Sharks would struggle to get clears and make complete line changes. In one sequence Niemi would stop a shot from the right point by Kyle Clifford, however was not able to lock down the rebound. Niemi had to reach behind him before Colin Fraiser could get to it and put in in the net. The Kings persistence though would ultimately pay off when Kopitar was able to feed Alec Martinez from behind the Sharks net. Martinez drilled a slap shot from the right side of the slot that beat Niemi to give the Kings the lead back at 2-1. The Sharks have had a bad habit recently of giving up goals to players who score only a few times all year. The goal scored by Martinez was just his fourth of the season. The Kings continued to amount a great deal of pressure and the Sharks struggled to just get out of the period down one goal.

Kings of Pain- The Kings opened the third period right where they had left off from the second, continuing to pressure the Sharks defensive zone and keeping the Sharks from generating much in the way off any offensive attack to speak of. A few minutes into the third frame Torrey Mitchell would draw a double minor when his hockey stick cut the lip of Justin Williams. This would only lead to more trouble for team teal as they would spend the next four minutes short handed at a time of the game where they could not afford it. The Sharks did have an early short handed scoring attempt off of the face off as they were able to bring the puck back up ice, only to see a shot from Marleau get snagged by Quick.

Soon the Sharks would find themselves in even more trouble as Andrew Desjardins drew another high sticking penalty. The Sharks would be down five on three for the power play and it looked grim until just a few seconds later when the Kings’ Carter would draw a tripping penalty. This actually though may have been more of a benefit to the Kings as they had a four on three man advantage and a lot of ice to use. The King would add to their lead as Kopitar would score just as Burns would draw a tripping penalty. Now with more power play time the Kings had a chance to create more of a gap between themselves against the Sharks but could not do that (yet). Shortly after the penalties expired Boyle brought the Sharks back to within one goal down with a wrist shot completing an odd man rush. Boyle was the recipient of a successful feed pass from Havlat via Clowe.

The Sharks down one seemed to have new life and started to finally become more aggressive in the Kings defensive zone, however were not able to put much on Quick as he had a clear look at every incoming puck the Sharks would send his way. The back breaker for the Sharks came with just barely four minutes remaining in the game as an errant pass from Clowe would find it’s way to the stick of Penner who brought the rubber biscuit back into the Sharks zone and drilled a wrister that easily beat Niemi. The “coup de grâce” came with just 16 seconds remaining as Carter would score an empty net goal for the final margin of the Kings’ victory.

Game Analysis- I would love to tell you after this that I feel good about the Sharks chances about the post season. I still feel good about their chances I’m sure many of them own very good state of the art flat screen TV’s. This maybe the only way the Sharks participate in the post season, as the rest of us will by watching it on television. As they say, “The Revolution Will Be Televised”…I guess the same holds true for what may be a pending completion of the post All Star break free fall for team teal. Tonight the Sharks as they did 24 hours early against the Ducks made a better door than a window. You just get the sense that this “window of opportunity” actually closed 10 months ago in Vancouver BC and the Sharks are only now starting to realize this sad reality.

As far as the game goes, the Kings honestly controlled about 50 of the 60 minutes played. The Sharks did not look anymore desperate than they did the night before, and it really showed. The Kings showed what a hungry team can do and LA sees the opportunity before them. You simply have to give the Kings total credit here and tip your cap to them, they outplayed the Sharks in virtually every phase of the game. The Sharks did not look nearly as bad as they did against Anaheim Monday night, however team teal was simply outclassed by another team that has surpassed them and frankly now is better than them, by a lot.

There’s really nothing Coach Todd McLellan could do the last two nights and probably for the remaining nine games. All he can do is hope the Sharks still realize they have a shot at the post season. However, the more teams you have to climb over the tougher it gets. The more games you lose or even OTL at this point, the harder it gets. The Sharks get the Boston Bruins at the Tank Thursday Night. Boston is looking to solidify their post season position in the Eastern Conference and are going on a late season West Coast swing. The Sharks will just have to find ways to make things start to work and dig deep to have any chance of getting into the post season.

In my truncated 15 games scenario, the Sharks are now 3-2-1 with nine games left. As Jamie Baker said on Sharks Radio tonight, the Sharks need to get to 95 points to find a post season spot. The Sharks are at 82 points needing 13 over the next nine games (total 18 points possible). Unless team teal does a drastic “about face” and gets hot over the final nine games of the season, this group of games will likely be the final nine games of the season, period. It all remains to be seen…


The King Shark


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