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Kings host Sharks in potential playoff preview

by Matthew Mankiewich /

SHARKS (25-15-7) at KINGS (26-16-5)


Last 10: San Jose 5-4-1, Los Angeles 5-3-2

Season series: Final game of the four-game set and final game of the regular season. The home team has won each of the first three contests.

Big story: Even though the Sharks and Kings are both in the playoffs, the Western Conference bracket is far from settled. Both these teams have 57 points, the fourth-seeded St. Louis Blues have 58, but the Kings have more regulation/overtime wins than the other two. So all they need to do to move into fourth place is tie the Blues on points, while the Sharks would have to win and depend on a regulation loss by the Blues, in which case the Sharks and Kings would meet again.

Team Scope:

Sharks: A quick look at the team stats won't reveal much. The Sharks are sixth in the NHL on the penalty kill at a very respectable 84.9 percent. Consider that last year's was a second-worst 76.9 percent and the improvement is tremendous.

In six of the last seven games in which they've had shorthanded spells, the Sharks have allowed a power-play goal and have been snuffing out penalties at an even-worse 75 percent clip. So fixing it will be a priority for Todd McLellan and his coaching staff.

"There's concern any time that you go on a streak that has a negative angle to it," McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News, "but you also have your ups and downs over a year. Lately we have been scored on so we've got to clean that up going into the playoffs, there's no doubt about it."

Kings: On Sunday at Staples Center, the Kings turned in a performance that made people think about last season's Stanley Cup run, defeating the Dallas Stars 4-3 in overtime. Then they went on the road and lost to the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings, both of whom are struggling to stay in the top eight. They've lost six away consecutive road games row and look like the exact opposite of last year's Cup champion, who won two more road games (10-1) during their playoff run than this team won all season (8-12-4). It's small consolation that the Sharks are no better at 8-13-2.

"Once playoffs start, it's a totally different story," center Anze Kopitar said after Wednesday's 3-1 road loss to the Detroit Red Wings. "Obviously, it's not encouraging to throw away points like that late in the year.

"But regardless, winning games, not winning games, we're going to have to get to a whole different level during the playoffs. We all know that."

Who's hot: Logan Couture has six points in four games, while Joe Pavelski has four in four. … For the Kings, Kopitar has gone 15 games without a goal and has only one in his past 18. But he has nine assists in his past 11 games. Antti Niemi got a night off Wednesday in favor of Thomas Greiss, and is 5-2-0 over his past seven starts, though he has a 3.74 goals-against average in his last six starts against the Kings.

Injury report: Kings captain Dustin Brown will serve out the second of his two-game suspension. … Sharks defenseman Jason Demers (foot) missed two games and is questionable for Saturday.

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