Some hockey fans may find this hard to believe, but 12 games into the National Hockey League season and the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are playing a very meaningful hockey game. Yes, all NHL contests count for two points in the standings and rivalry and division games have a little more intensity, but tonight matches the first and second place teams in the Pacific Division.
The Sharks and Kings have been rivals over the years, but most of it had to do with geography. Since the Sharks inception, the two clubs have been at their best at different times.
While Team Teal was skating at the Cow Palace in the early years, the Kings were parading through the NHL with Wayne Gretzky and made their one trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. San Jose lost 71 games in one year during the stretch. In recent years, the Sharks have been among the NHL’s elite, while the Kings have been in a rebuilding mode.
The standings today have the Kings in first place and the Sharks in second. Maybe (hopefully with a different ending) it will be a race all season with the two for first place.
Kings center Anze Kopitar may not be Wayne Gretzky, but he’s leading the NHL in points and that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Sharks locker room. Nor has the club forgotten their early season loss in Southern California where Los Angeles jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. San Jose rallied to tie it, but in the end surrendered the two points.
“This is not the L.A. team from three years ago,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
said. “Last year they were pretty good and this year they’re better.”
“We’d better be ready,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “If we’re not ready to play, we could fall behind three, four or five goals. We had our first test in L.A. and didn’t pass.”
As for the NHL’s leading scorer, Vlasic said it will be an extra challenge to try and keep him off the scoresheet.
“Whenever you’re on the ice you will want to shut him down,” Vlasic said. “It’s a good challenge for me. You make yourself better trying to shut down players like him.”
“Kopitar and (Kings left wing Ryan) Smyth are as good as any pairing in the League right now,” McLellan said.
THE PRICE ONE PAYS
Eighteen. That’s the amount of stitches sitting in the left cheek of rookie forward Benn Ferriero
. He received the cut late in Saturday’s game at Atlanta.
“It was a skate,” Ferriero said. “I got it in a scrum right off the faceoff. It was the last shift of the game.”
Ferriero’s happy with the role he’s played in San Jose’s early success, but he’s far from comfortable in the situation.
“I’m getting more confident,” Ferriero said. “I’m still adjusting a lot and it’s only been 12 games. There are still a lot more games to go.”
CAN YOU GO BACK HOME AGAIN?
Like many Wisconsin natives, Joe Pavelski
is a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. So he has the same dilemma others will when Favre returns to Lambeau Field this weekend with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I think a lot of people are straight up Favre fans,” Pavelski said. “For me, the first game against Minnesota, I found myself always rooting for the offense. I like (former Cal quarterback and Favre’s successor Aaron) Rodgers, too.”
In the end, Pavelski wants Favre to be successful, but just not at the expense of the Packers.
Tonight’s Kings game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Note that for satellite users, the contest may end up on CSN California Plus due to the Sacramento Kings game. Tickets can be found at the www.ticketmaster.com.