The Sharks attempt to get back on track and clinch a playoff berth at home against the division-leading Los Angeles Kings following three-straight regulation losses.
For the last several weeks, the San Jose Sharks had been right on Anaheim and Los Angeles’ heels in the Pacific Division, hoping to garner the coveted top spot or at least finish second and get home-ice advantage in round one of the playoffs.
That seems like a huge reach now that the Sharks trail the Kings by seven points and the Ducks by four with Anaheim also having a game in hand. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Maybe the fact that the Sharks are now basically a lock for third place in the division will help them play a little more relaxed and snap their three-game losing skid. While San Jose has yet to clinch a playoff berth – unless they go winless the rest of the way and Arizona wins their last seven – team teal is comfortably in. The Sharks’ main concerns now should be to get healthy, stay healthy, and play better hockey.
That will be tough tonight against a 45-25-5 Kings team who lead the league in fewest goals against (2.3 allowed per game). Los Angeles comes into this matchup off a 6-4 victory over Edmonton, an important win after three consecutive losses.
Head coach Darryl Sutter has tabbed Jonathan Quick to be between the pipes tonight. Quick is going through a rough patch in an overall solid season, producing a save percentages under .890 in each of his past four starts. The American net minder is 0-2-0 with a 4.52 GAA and horrid .833 save percentage on the year against San Jose.
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The Sharks look to salvage this six-game home stand and at least finish it off .500. For the fourth consecutive game, this is a win-and-your-in scenario for the ‘Fins, who are on the verge of getting back in the playoffs after missing the tournament last year for the first time since 2003.
Martin Jones will get the nod in the crease for San Jose, looking to bounce back from a rough statistical performance against the Stars where he allowed three goals on 16 shots. Jones has been very reliable in the month of March, however, maintaining a .932 save percentage. He’ll look to have a stronger performance against his former team, whom he allowed three or more goals to in his past three showdowns.
This will be the fifth and final meeting between these two rivals, and based on previous results, there should be a good amount of scoring as each game has produced five-plus goals. The Sharks lead the series 2-1-1.
Players to Watch
Sharks: Logan Couture. The birthday boy will be hoping for a win tonight, but also for the gift of a goal, which has been hard to come by for him as of late. Couture has notched just two points in his past nine games, and hasn’t scored since March 8 when he struck twice in Edmonton. The second-line center had been performing well in the winter months coming off a severe knee injury, but he has really lost a step in March. Couture is a key piece for San Jose, so netting a couple and halting this cold streak before playoff time is critical for Sharks’ success.
Kings: Tyler Toffoli. The youngster is having the best season of his career with 29 goals, 53 points and an impressive 14.6 shooting percentage. Toffoli has seen a lot of success against team teal, notching three goals and an assist in four games. Additionally, he’s coming off his season-best, four-point performance at Edmonton. Despite his average stature at 6’1″, he has proved capable of matching his opponents’ physicality throughout his career and is a very good offensive player.
Keys to the Game
1. Stay Healthy
A loss to the Kings would hurt, but at least it would not physically hurt. Joonas Donskoi will make his return tonight after a one-game absence, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic is still out with no timetable for return. At this time of year, any injury is crucial, and the Sharks are already without a star defenseman, so they can’t afford another loss against a physical Kings team.
2. Bottom Six Forwards
The Kings have a great group of defensemen, elite goalie, and phenomenal top-six forwards. However, without Marian Gaborik and Kris Versteeg in the lineup, the Kings somewhat lack depth on their third and fourth lines, especially at the center position. The Sharks may not have the star power of the Kings, but they do have depth at forward right now with Donskoi back from injury, so they can take advantage of that tonight.
3. Stay Disciplined
Generally, the Sharks have done a good job of this in 2015-16 with the eighth fewest penalty minutes in the league, but that was not the case on Saturday afternoon versus the Stars, who drew six penalties on San Jose. Los Angeles is a good team on the power-play, ranking 8th in the NHL, whereas the Sharks are 23rd on the penalty kill. Team teal must refrain from silly penalties and not give this already good Kings team easier opportunities to score.