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Kings need stars to step up game vs. Sharks

San Jose's top players are outplaying their Los Angeles counterparts

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

LOS ANGELES -- Superstars win series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Conventional wisdom says the best players play their best when the stakes are the highest.

That has been the case for only one team through the first two games of the Western Conference First Round Series between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. So far, it's the stars from the Sharks who are shining the brightest; in large part, that's why San Jose is flying home with a 2-0 series lead after grinding out a 2-1 victory in Game 2 at Staples Center on Saturday.

Joe Pavelski, the captain from the Sharks, has scored on the first shot by his team in each game. He has three goals, and his line, with center Joe Thornton and left wing Tomas Hertl, has been on the ice for five of the six goals San Jose has scored, including one on the power play in each game.

"I would say that would be the difference in the series right now," Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "The Pavelski line, no question."

What about the stars for the Kings? Not so much, says their coach.

"These [top] guys aren't getting enough," Sutter said, trying to motivate his team through sound bytes and headlines.

Video: SJS@LAK, Gm1: Carter banks in puck to tie the game

The Kings have four goals; Jeff Carter, a top-six forward, has one. The others have been scored by a fourth-line forward, Trevor Lewis, during a penalty kill; a second-pair defenseman, Jake Muzzin, on a bank shot from behind the net; and Vincent Lecavalier, a forward playing in a support role in his final season, during a power-play scramble on Saturday.

But Sutter was just getting warmed up.

Asked about the play of right wing Marian Gaborik, who made his first start since being injured on Feb. 12, Sutter made his dissatisfaction with other players crystal clear.

"I thought [Jamie] McBain was our best defenseman and I thought Gabby was our best winger," he said.

Video: SJS@LAK, GM2: Jones makes blocker save on high shot

McBain, dressing in a next-man-up scenario after an injury to No. 2 defenseman Alec Martinez in Game 1, played 16:14 with one shot on goal, two giveaways and three blocked shots.

Yet the coach asserted that McBain played better than his other five defensemen, including Drew Doughty, a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman and two-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada who played 29:15.

Maybe it was all the shots Doughty missed in Game 2 that had Sutter seething. He attempted 10 shots, but San Jose goalie Martin Jones didn't have to stop any of them. Six were blocked, the other four went high or wide.

But, Doughty was not the only one guilty of bad aim. The Kings missed the target on 24 shot attempts, they had another 28 blocked. Jones made 26 saves.

Video: SJS@LAK, Gm1: Doughty plays goalie to deny a score

"There were several great opportunities by our top players that [Jones] didn't have to stop," Sutter said. "He couldn't see the puck and he didn't have to stop it."

Sutter understands his team. He knows when it needs a wake-up call. He has won the Stanley Cup twice with the core of this team. He is a master motivator/manipulator.

The Kings can be better; their coach knows that. But he has been around enough hockey in his career to know that time is already of the essence. Yes, the Kings won four straight against the Sharks in a playoff series two springs ago, but the historic-comeback well is not one to be drawn from repeatedly.

Video: SJS@LAK, GM2: Levacalier gets Kings on the board

The best players from the Kings simply need to be better, and it needs to start in Game 3 at SAP Center on Monday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, PRIME. CSN-CA).

The players have received the message, which is half the battle. Now the stars have to deliver on their star power Monday; before it gets to be too late.

"I definitely have to be better," top-line center Anze Kopitar said. "I take pride in leading the team. For me I know this is just not good enough. You got to bring it a lot better on Monday.''

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