KINGS (8-4-0) at SHARKS (7-4-1)
These Pacific Division rivals face off for the second of six meetings this season. Los Angeles claimed a 6-4 win on home ice three weeks ago, despite blowing a 4-0 lead. Devin Setoguchi had a pair of power-play tallies for San Jose and Dany Heatley's goal on the man advantage with 5:36 left in the third tied things up, but Teddy Purcell answered 26 seconds later with the game-winner. Six different Kings scored.
Los Angeles 7-3-0; San Jose 6-3-1
Anyone needing a surefire sign it's a new season only has to look at the division standings to see the Kings, who missed the playoffs in 2008-09, one point ahead of the defending Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks. It's shaping up to be a tight race in the Pacific, with the top four teams currently separated by just four points, so games like this one are important, even in October.
The season got off to a shaky start when Los Angeles was blasted on home ice by Phoenix, but the Kings have taken off since then. On Saturday, they were able to gain a measure of revenge by going on the road and beating the Coyotes, 5-3. They returned to Staples Center the following night and routed a solid Columbus team by a 6-2 score, also payback for an earlier 4-1 loss to the Jackets. It's four straight wins and counting for L.A.
"The game in Columbus, we were not happy with how it went for us," Kings coach Terry Murray said, "so coming out early, starting with the way we finished the game last night, and getting the first goal, was important. The game was what you want, what you ask for."
This past weekend was also kind to San Jose, which finished off a six-game Eastern Conference road trip with a 4-2-0 mark thanks to victories in Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Sharks' 4-1 win over the Flyers was particularly impressive in that it came on the second night of a back-to-back situation, with backup goalie Thomas Greiss
making 37 saves and newcomer Manny Malhotra scoring twice.
"He stepped up," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said of Greiss, who made his first start of the season. "It probably wasn't fair to throw him out there to the wolves, but it shows his character. He's been practicing hard. Maybe he knew it was coming and his teammates rallied around him."
Who's Hot --
Kings forward Anze Kopitar
leads the League in points for a reason -- he's got six goals and nine points in his last four games, and a six-game points streak overall. Defenseman Drew Doughty
has five assists in his last three games and 11 points already this season.
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau
has four goals and 10 points during a five-game points streak, while forward Dany Heatley has goals in consecutive games.
Injury Report --
Forward Justin Williams
, who had been part of the Kings' top line along with Kopitar and Ryan Smyth, remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury. San Jose forward Joe Pavelski
remains out with a lower-body injury, while forwards Devin Setoguchi and Ryan Vesce missed the game against the Flyers with leg injuries.
Stat Pack --
Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov came into this season 22-12-1 with two ties and a 2.03 goals-against average facing the Kings, but was pulled from the Oct. 6 start after allowing three goals on 16 shots. Greiss was saddled with the loss in that game, his only appearance prior to starting against the Flyers.
Puck Drop --
Los Angeles currently holds sole possession of first place in the Pacific and would like to keep it that way for as long as possible. Let's see if the Kings have what it takes to win in the Shark Tank, where few opponents left with two points a season ago.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com