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At the Rink: Sharks at Kings

by Curtis Zupke / NHL.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic could be a game-time decision and right wing Joel Ward is expected to sit out Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN).

Vlasic is questionable with an undisclosed injury. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said he thought Vlasic would play but might be a game-time decision, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The Sharks held an optional skate at Staples Center and the Kings held their morning skate at their practice facility.

Ward, San Jose's fourth-leading scorer, has an upper-body injury and reportedly said he would like to return after the NHL's Christmas break, which begins Wednesday and runs through Friday.

It's a key pre-break game for the Kings and Sharks, who are first and second in the Pacific Division, respectively. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty relishes a big stage, and a nationally televised game against a rival would qualify as such.

"It's a big game for us, especially going into Christmas break; what better to end it off with a big win here against a division rival of ours?" Doughty said. "It's a team that we really don't like too much. It's a team that we love to play and love to beat, obviously. For me, I need to step up and have a big game tonight."

The Kings are attempting to win seven straight at home for the first time since they won their final seven home games of the 2012-13 regular season. They have won 11 of their past 13 at Staples Center and can increase their lead over the Sharks in the division to 10 points.

It's a contrast to past seasons, when the Kings have typically looked up at the standings in the regular season.

"We need to continue to create more breathing room between first and second place, and that's what we're looking to do," Doughty said.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter will continue with left wing Milan Lucic with center Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, a combination that was tried unsuccessfully at the beginning of the season. But Sutter on Dec. 14 reunited "That '70s Line" of left wing Tanner Pearson, center Jeff Carter and right wing Tyler Toffoli, after Lucic played with Carter and Toffoli.

Lucic has gotten comfortable after a slow start in his first season with the Kings and has a feel for the rivalry.

"Two big, strong teams that also know how to defend well and put the puck in the net," Lucic said. "I think both teams definitely thrive off of playing that power game, that cycle game, that puck-possession game. I think that's why it's always been great battles and a rivalry, especially the last five years. I'm excited about [Tuesday]."

Here are the projected lineups:

SHARKS

Dainius Zubrus - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Joonas Donskoi - Patrick Marleau - Matt Nieto

Melker Karlsson - Chris TierneyTommy Wingels

Ben SmithTomas HertlMike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Paul Martin - Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon - Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones

Alex Stalock

Injured: Logan Couture (thigh), Joel Ward (upper body)

Scratched: Matt Tennyson

KINGS

Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli

Milan Lucic - Anze Kopitar - Marian Gaborik

Trevor Lewis - Nick Shore - Dustin Brown

Michael Mersch - Andy Andreoff - Jordan Nolan

Brayden McNabb - Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin - Alec Martinez

Christian Ehrhoff - Jamie McBain

Jonathan Quick

Jhonas Enroth

Injured: Matt Greene (shoulder), Dwight King (foot), Kyle Clifford (upper body)

Scratched: Jordan Weal, Derek Forbort

Status report: Jones is expected to start against his former team. … Karlsson will return after he missed a game with the flu. … Weal stayed out with the extras. … King skated Monday for the first time this season, a positive sign in his recovery from a broken foot. "I'm finally coming to the end, which is exciting," King said.

Who's hot: Thornton and Pavelski each have four-game point streaks, and Pavelski has three goals and four assists in that span. … Quick had a 45-save shutout against the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday.

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