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Sharks put eight-game win streak on line vs. Kings

by Brian Hunter
KINGS (24-15-3) at SHARKS (27-8-7)

Last 10: Los Angeles 5-5-0; San Jose 8-1-1

Season Series:
Fourth of six meetings this season. San Jose makes trips to Los Angeles on Jan. 11 and 19. The Kings have taken two of the three games played this season, 6-4 at Staples Center on Oct. 6 and 5-4 in overtime at HP Pavilion on Dec. 9. The Sharks won on home ice 2-1 in a shootout on Oct. 28.

Big Story: If the Kings want to end a six-season playoff drought, they need to show upper-echelon teams like the Sharks that they're for real, and that's exactly what they've done from the opening week of the season. They earned a point in the first matchup in San Jose and came away with two in the most recent meeting, thanks to Dustin Brown's goal 1:18 into the extra period.

"I think, for our confidence, it's big," Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar said. "We came here, and the first one we lost in a shootout, and then this one we won in OT. That's a hard place to play in. The crowd is right on top of you. It's loud all the time. The place is rocking. I've seen some teams come in here and just melt down. I think we really showed our character."

Team Scope:

With the remainder of the Western Conference taking Monday off, Los Angeles could jump two points ahead of Vancouver and into a three-way tie for fifth with Calgary and Nashville by defeating San Jose. The Kings have followed up a four-game losing streak with a pair of quality wins, including a 2-1 victory against the Capitals on Saturday. Michal Handzus had the decisive shorthanded goal early in the third period.

"The last two games have been character games," coach Terry Murray said. "Today it was against one of the premier teams in the game and the top offensive team in the League. So we had to come out and play with the right attitude and play intelligently."

After a five-game skid in early December, San Jose has responded with eight consecutive victories to reclaim the Western Conference lead. This is the second of four straight at home for the Sharks, and they started on the right foot with a 4-1 win over the Oilers on Saturday. Patrick Marleau scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season and Dany Heatley added his 24th.

"It's not like anyone here is through the roof," said defenseman Douglas Murray, who added his third career goal. "You obviously want to get the Presidents' Trophy in the regular season. But it's the playoffs that really count. We just have to keep getting our game better."

Who's Hot: Kings forward Ryan Smyth has scored goals in two straight games after being left off Canada's roster for the upcoming Olympic Games. Goalie Jonathan Quick, who made the U.S. team, has won consecutive starts while stopping 53 of 56 shots for a .946 save percentage. … Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov has allowed two goals or less in eight consecutive starts, going 7-0-1 in that stretch with a .947 save percentage.

Injury Report:
Los Angeles defenseman Randy Jones has been out since mid-December with headaches and dizziness, while forwards Jarret Stoll (groin), Justin Williams (right leg/ankle surgery) and Andrei Lokitonov (shoulder surgery) are on injured reserve. … San Jose forward Manny Malhotra is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Stat Pack:
San Jose's eight regulation losses are the fewest in the League, two less than Chicago and New Jersey. … Handzus now has 16 career shorthanded goals.

Puck Drop:
Don't think for a moment that the Sharks are going to get complacent with how well things have gone of late.

"Take a look at the standings," captain Rob Blake said. "You win eight in a row but you don't jump way too far ahead of anyone. So we need to keep winning."

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