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Kings, Sharks set to renew rivalry

by David Kalan
KINGS (12-3-0) at SHARKS (8-5-2)


Last 10: Los Angeles 8-2-0; San Jose 6-3-1

Season Series: This will be the first meeting of the season for San Jose and Los Angeles. The two teams split the series last season, with the final meeting a 5-1 win for the Sharks on Jan. 19 at the STAPLES Center.

Big Story: In an unusual switch of positions, the three-time defending Pacific Division champs are looking up at Los Angeles in the standings. In their first showdown with the Sharks this season, the upstart Kings have a chance to stake their claim as the best team in California.

Team Scope:

Kings: If you're searching for which team is most likely to complete a Hawks-like switch from longtime bottom-feeder to Cup contender, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than the Kings. After several down years, L.A.'s young talent looks to be maturing into one of the top teams in the League, with wins in eight of its last nine games and a recently capped perfect 5-0 homestand. Five weeks into the season the Kings have settled into the top spot in the West, and with their impressive offense it isn't hard to see why. While Justin Williams leads the pack with 11 points over a current nine-game point streak, mainstays like Dustin Brown and young defenseman Jack Johnson have also chipped in with 10 points between them in the last three games.

But Los Angeles' scoring prowess isn't a surprise. The Kings' staunch defense of late, however, is more impressive than what anyone might have expected. Thanks in part to Jon Quick's strong play -- the netminder is 10-1-0 on the season -- and a solid defense -- L.A. gives up the seventh fewest shots in the League -- the Kings are giving up an average of 1.87 goals per game, the fewest in the NHL. On their recent homestand the Kings surrendered only four goals in five games.

Sharks: Anaheim is the only California team to lift the Stanley Cup, but since 2007 the Sharks have ruled the roost in the Golden State. Monday will be the first of six chances for San Jose to keep that designation before the Kings wrest the mantel away, and the Sharks may be pulling themselves together at just the right time. San Jose has points in its last four games and has two straight wins after a 4-3 win over the Flames Saturday night. Joe Pavelski scored his first goal in seven games in the victory, while players such as Ryane Clowe, who has five points in his last three outings, and Logan Couture, who had three points against Calgary, are providing the depth that has kept San Jose a contender for the better part of the last decade.

The situation between the pipes is still somewhat murky, however. Antti Niemi was signed after a Cup run with Chicago this spring, but in his first season in the bay results have been mixed. Niemi was in net for Saturday's win, but it was his only start in the last four games and just his second win of the season. Instead, journeyman goalie Antero Niittymaki has gotten the bulk of the work of late, and with a 6-1-2 mark so far in the 2010-11 campaign, coach Todd McLellan may opt for the hotter hand until Niittymaki runs cold.

Who's Hot: Anze Kopitar is off to a strong start to the season, but he's been particularly impressive recently, tallying three goals and four assists in the last three games ... As San Jose's offense starts to get ramped up, Dan Boyle has provided solid production from the blue line, tallying a goal and four assists over his current four-game point streak.

Injury Report: L.A.'s Alexei Ponikarovsky is out until early December with a broken finger, while defenseman Willie Mitchell is likely to be gone until the middle of next month with a broken left wrist. San Jose should have a full lineup.

Stat Pack: San Jose showed its impressive secondary scoring with a four-goal output against Calgary, but the Sharks will struggle offensively if their big weapons don't return to form. First-liners Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau have no goals between them in the club's last three games.

Puck Drop: San Jose's drop to fourth in the Pacific is likely just a product of a typical early season logjam in the standings, but the Sharks typical place atop the division in April may no longer be assured. Los Angeles doesn't have the look of a team on a flukey run, but rather one that seeks a changing of the guard in the West. The Kings have just one win in their last seven visits to the Tank, but if they can get a victory Monday it may be a sign that the change is coming sooner rather than later.
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