To Live And Die In LA- Kyle Clifford scored two goals while Jonathan Bernier made 20 saves as the Los Angeles Kings took the San Jose Sharks to the Staples Center woodshed in a 5-2 win for the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The game for the Sharks was a very ugly one as the Kings got huge payback for the Sharks win two nights earlier at the Shark Tank. This game was a complete “180” from Thursday night’s game as Los Angeles would jump out to a huge lead in the second period after completely dominating the opening period. Goals from Patrick Marleau and Matt Irwin were almost literally the only highlights for team teal all night. Even Antti Niemi, who has been solid in net for the Sharks all season, was pulled from the net after the Kings scored their fourth goal in the second period. Two nights earlier, it was the Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick who got the hook after allowing three goals to the Sharks by the middle of the second period.
The Sharks with the loss still are in eight place in the Western Conference Standings thanks in large part to the Columbus Blue Jackets defeating the Phoenix Coyotes earlier in the evening. Seven other teams in the Western Conference gained ground on the Sharks who after netting 14 points in their first seven games, have needed 20 games to net their next 14 points. This was the first of a five game road trip for team teal that may very well go a long ways towards playing a role in the Sharks fate for this shortened season. The Sharks road will get no easier as they take on their arch rival in the Anaheim Ducks Monday at the Honda Center. The Ducks are only running away with the Pacific Division with the second best record in the Western Conference next to Chicago.
The Kings Were Simply All Business- The Kings in the first period and really throughout the entire game were all business. They wasted very little time establishing their dominance and gave rather quick indications they were ready to put the Sharks in their place. The Kings took a 1-0 lead just 2:27 into the game thanks to a sharp angle shot from Clifford that beat Niemi five hole. The Sharks while defending their zone missed that the Kings had just done a line change. The Sharks simply somehow failed to account for Clifford, or notice he was one of the players that had just come onto the ice. Clifford had the whole left side of the ice open and was able to get the puck to virtual three o’clock angle before drilling a slap shot that Niemi just failed to stop. The Sharks meanwhile could never get anything in gear offensively. Their trips into the Kings defensive zone were brief and when they were able to get a puck on the net Bernier was more than ready. Officially, the Sharks only had three scoring chances in the entire opening period and registered just five shots on goal.
The Sharks fortunes only would get worse as the first period wore on. One could say if the Sharks did not have bad luck they would not have had any. The Kings next goal fell along those lines perfectly. At the 12:19 mark of the opening period, Justin Williams drilled a wrist shot that hit Brad Stuart smack in the seat cushion and bounced past Niemi into the net. Niemi had just seconds earlier made a save on another wrist shot from Anze Kopitar. The goal was awarded to Williams after it was originally thought that Los Angeles’ Captain Dustin Brown has scored it. Just a moment before this sequence, Tommy Wingles had a one on one breakaway but was stoned by Bernier before the puck traveled the other direction. The Kings put 12 shots on goal with Niemi saving 10 of them. However, it was clear Niemi was having difficulty as the Sharks defense was providing him with very little help.
Temporary Hope- After a bad first period it appeared the Sharks were sharper coming out of the gate for the second period. The Sharks in fact just needed 35 seconds to draw to within a goal as Patrick Marleau took a perfect feed pass from Brent Burns in front of the Kings goal and drilled a wrister past Bernier. The goal seemed to pump some life into team teal after a lackluster opening period. Moments later Douglas Murray took on Clifford and hammered him into the ice. The Sharks had all the momentum and all of a sudden had hope (or so they thought). Dan Boyle and Burns had booming shots on goal that Bernier saved though the blasts were quite challenging.
A Fateful Turning Point- About half way though the period the Kings drew a penalty when Tyler Toffoli broke Wingles’ stick as he had another break away on the Kings defenders. The officials awarded Wingles with a penalty shot and the Sharks with an opportunity to tie the game. Wingles came up ice one on one against Bernier. However, Quick’s back-up proved to be just as ready as Quick would have probably been himself. Bernier almost effortlessly made the save. The game changed right at this point as this sequence basically killed any momentum the Sharks had going up until this point. Just a few moments later things started to unravel for team teal. Taking control of the puck in their defensive zone, the Kings’ Alec Martinez passed the puck across ice to Jared Stoll who carried the puck into the Sharks zone. Stoll then drop passed the puck to Trevor Lewis who drilled a shot on goal which Niemi saved. However, Niemi failed to control the rebound and could not even locate where the puck had went. Stoll moving in front of the goal crease picked up the rubber biscuit and knocked it past Niemi five hole to give Los Angeles a 3-1 lead.
Things from here just went from bad to worse for team teal. Two and a half minutes after Stoll’s goal, Clifford would get his second marker of the evening as he was able to stuff the puck under the besieged Niemi. This was the end result of a complete breakdown of the Sharks in their own offensive zone where Andrew Desjardens and Marleau seemed to lose sight of the puck, then watched as Dustin Penner had control of the puck and tried to knock it past Niemi. Once again, Niemi made the save on the initial try from Penner. However, once again Niemi could not control the puck and Clifford came up behind Penner and finished off the play. The Sharks were now down by three, and were a complete mess on the ice. Head Coach Todd McLellan feeling he had no choice pulled Niemi from the game and replaced him with Alex Stalock. Towards the end of the period Dwight King would drill a wrister past Stalock to make it a 5-1 game and serving notice the rout was now on. Ironically, the Sharks actually outshot Los Angeles 10-9 in the second period, which only proved to show how meaningless and misleading that very statistic can be sometimes.
Just Waiting For the Fat Lady to Sing- The final period for the most part followed perfectly the script of what is known in sports as “Garbage Time”. The Kings were primarily focused on just locking down the Sharks defensively and killing off the final period. The Kings only had three shots on goal and none during a late power play as Burns took the Sharks obligatory goalie interference penalty late in the period. The Sharks put seven shots on Bernier and he swatted down the first six without any problem whatsoever. The Sharks final shot on goal was taken by Irwin who drilled a 55 foot slapshot past Bernier to make the score 5-2 with just 49 seconds remaining. Irwin’s goal was a “oh by the way” power play goal after Clifford was called for interference with 54 seconds remaining. The “Fat Lady” sang over the Staples Center public address system with 2:33 remaining in the game, but for all intensive purposes could have just belted out that tune at the end of the second period and beat the Staples Center’s post game traffic jam.
Shark Bytes- The game’s three stars were all from the Los Angeles Kings, 3) Jared Stoll, 2) Jonathan Bernier, and 1) Kyle Clifford who was just one assist short of a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”. Ryane Clowe left the game after the first period and did not return. The Sharks as of this writing have not said what if anything is wrong with Clowe. The Sharks with the loss have now dropped 15 of their last 20 games since starting the season winning their first seven games. Prior to tonight, Clifford has scored 14 goals in 183 NHL games before getting two in this contest. A sign of how far south things have gone for team teal: The Sharks have scored no more than three goals in 21 of their last 22 games. Sharks Captain Joe Thornton has only two during that stretch, after scoring in three consecutive games in late January. The Sharks are being outscored 69-64 on the season overall.
Next Sharks Game- Monday Night versus their arch rivals, the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center. The Ducks are in second place in the Western Conference and already appear to have the Pacific Division title all but locked up. Anaheim will enter that game with a very strong 20-3-4 record and 44 points in the Western Conference. The Ducks have also won their last 11 home games to boot. The Sharks and Ducks have split two games this season with each team winning on their home ice.
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