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Sharks try to stay hot by beating Kings

by Matthew Mankiewich
SHARKS (25-19-5) at KINGS (26-22-1)

TV -- CSN-California (HD), FS-West (HD)

Last 10
-- San Jose 4-6-0, Los Angeles 4-6-0

Season series -- San Jose leads 2-1 after Antti Niemi outdueled Jonathan Quick 1-0 on New Year's Day at Staples Center. The Pacific Division rivals split the opening pair at HP Pavilion.

Big story -- Taking the bottom two places in the Pacific doesn't mean much, as the ongoing story all season has been the tightness of the Western Conference playoff race, and it shows no signs of spreading out. What matters is that the Sharks' four-game winning streak had put them in the eighth seed for a few hours, then Colorado won and they found themselves a point out again.

The Kings have one last shot to win a home game before the All-Star break, as they will come out of it on a 10-game road trip that keeps them out of L.A. until Feb. 24. They've lost seven of 10 at home.

Team scope

-- It's happened too many times this season. The Sharks get on a roll only to see it dramatically halted. They won four in a row from Dec. 16-23 and these very same Kings stuffed it with a 4-0 blanking on Dec. 27. That started a 2-8-0 slump for the Sharks.

"Four games in a row is nice," coach Todd McLellan said following a 4-3 victory over the Wild on Saturday. "It reminds me a lot of heading into Christmas. We had our game going well. We were able to play well that last game and went into the break and somehow forgot everything over a 48-hour period, so there is concern there.

"We only have three more periods left and then guys will get their opportunity to rest and to get focused for the last ride."

Kings -- The streak isn't as long, but the signs of a breakout are there. The Kings have strung together a pair of wins after slogging through a 2-10-0 slump. What has them moderately optimistic is a 2-0 win over the Bruins at home on Monday, their fifth in a row over the Northeast Division leaders.

Coach Terry Murray had resisted making major personnel changes on the power play, and for at least one night patience paid off, as Ryan Smyth broke an 0-for-22 stretch with a power-play tally in the first period.

"It really helps against a team that's a good hockey club like that," Murray told the Kings' website. "They've got the No. 1 goaltender in save percentage and goals-against average in the League. If you can get one in early on them it's really important for your team, it puts more pressure on them."

Who's hot -- Quick is back to living up to his name, having stopped 57 of 60 shots in the last two games after losing seven of his previous eight starts with a 3.38 goals-against average. He's one shutout shy of tying Felix Potvin for third in Kings history, a bit behind Rogie Vachon's all-time mark of 32. Smyth has 7 goals and 5 assists in his last 14 games. … For San Jose, Logan Couture has a three-game goal-scoring streak going, and Joe Thornton has 9 points in his last six games.

Injury report -- Sharks goalie Antero Niittymaki (lower body) went on injured reserve after getting hurt in the morning skate last Thursday and must remain there at least one week. Forward Torrey Mitchell (groin) remains on IR as well. Forward Ryane Clowe (ankle) has missed four straight games but is still day-to-day. … Kings forward Marco Sturm (knee tendinitis) was placed on IR Jan. 20 (retroactive to Jan. 18) and is technically eligible to return Wednesday but hasn't been on the ice all week. Forward Scott Parse (hip surgery) is still considered a mid-February possibility.

Stat pack -- With his last win, Quick also became the third Kings goalie to have at least 20 wins in three consecutive seasons. Kelly Hrudey also had three from 1989-92, but alas, both are way behind Vachon's six from 1972-78. … Smyth's game-winner Monday was the 51st of his career. … Couture leads all NHL rookies in game-winners (6), power-play goals (6) and goals overall (22). … The 34 shots Boston took on the Kings stopped a seven-game streak in which Los Angeles held teams to 30 or fewer.

Puck drop -- "Those are the fun games to play, whenever you're playing your division rivals. You're going to get fired up for that kind of a game, without any need of help from anybody else. You come to the rink, you're excited, your adrenaline is flowing a little bit faster, and you just want to get on the ice and compete. That's what we're looking forward to, is that game tomorrow night against San Jose. They're trying to put it all together and get themselves going, and we're the same, so I think it will be a real fun game." -- Murray, via the Kings' website, on the anticipated playoff-like atmosphere Wednesday night

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